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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1377


Mr BURR(1.04) —Today I want to raise in the House the growing practice of genetic engineering, which I think is possibly a term that many people in this chamber and throughout the community of Australia would not be familiar with. It is one of those scientific titles that really raise the eyebrows but go over the head of most people in the community. Perhaps some of the more clamorous results of genetic engineering, such as in vitro fertilisation and the frozen embryo techniques, are those glamorous types of experiments that attract media attention and people in the community are familiar with them. But I doubt very much whether some of the other practices of genetic engineering are brought to the attention of the community, and it is in that vein that I speak today.

I have no doubt the community would be aware of some of the practices that were pursued by doctors and medical researchers in nazi Germany during the Second World War, when in fact they used Jewish people as guinea-pigs in live experiments. I have no doubt that people in this chamber, along with other civilised people throughout the world, were absolutely revolted by the practices that came to light at the end of the Second World War and what had been going on in nazi Germany. But I wonder how many people in Australia are aware that such experiments are taking place in Australia at the moment, involving the use of human live tissue in medical experiments. That, I think, is a fact of which very few people would be aware. It is an unfortunate practice that has built up, not only in this country but in others.

The human live tissue is obtained from the foetuses of aborted children. In talking about this subject, we need to clearly distinguish between the abortion issue, as it is debated in this and other countries, and the practice of medical experimenters and doctors using live tissue from the aborted foetus for medical experimentation. They are two entirely different issues. I, for one, have voted in this chamber, and would vote in the future, to give people the right to exercise their own moral and ethical standards as to whether they choose to obtain an abortion. I would continue to vote in that way. But I draw a great distinction between that and what happens to that foetus after the abortion is performed, and that is the subject of my speech here today.

What is happening in an increasing number of cases is that the live foetus that is the product of the abortion is being used for medical experimentation. I believe that everyone in this chamber and throughout the community of Australia should be absolutely revolted by this practice. This practice has been building up increasingly over a number of years in Australia. Not only has it been building up, but it has been supported by Commonwealth governments by the granting of moneys for that research to continue. In fact, over the period 1974 to 1983 the Howard Florey Institute, which is one of the main research institutes conducting these experiments, received $15.7m of Commonwealth aid. The community, I believe, has not made a moral or ethical judgment on this matter. It is only the medical experimenters themselves who have made any moral or ethical judgment. That judgment has been exercised by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

When I talk about tissue being used from the foetuses of aborted children, I do not mean just simply a scraping of skin. What is being used is not just a slight piece of skin tissue; it is also the organs that are coming from these live foetuses, and, in fact, the medical researchers are using such things as liver, lungs, kidneys, brains, breast, pancreas, bone marrow, spleen-they are using all these organs in their various medical researches. Not only that, but they have now also perfected a technique of being able to maintain those organs in a live state for future experiments. I think that that is a practice that we, as civilised Australians, should be absolutely revolted by.

Professor J. R. Turtle and Dr B. E. Tuch, of Sydney University, have perfected a system whereby the tissue from the pancreas of a foetus 20 weeks old has been kept alive in in-vitro form for transplantation into human beings, and the scientists agree that human foetal pancreata were obtained following therapeutic termination of pregnancies of between 14 and 20 weeks gestation, and that the organs were diced into one millimetre explants and incubated at 37* centigrade for a period of up to three months. So they have now perfected a technique of being able to maintain and sustain these live organs for future experiments.

As I said, the only moral and ethical guidelines that have been introduced so far have been brought in by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Those guidelines are as follows. The Council justifies the process because it claims that the ethical justification, while allowing for dissent, should also allow for conscientious objection by those researchers who have a conscience about these things. But the Council points out that the following conditions should be observed-not must be observed, but should be observed. The Council also says that the conditions are not mandatory but that these guidelines should be observed:

The foetus should be available for research only.

Dissection of the foetus should not be carried out while a heart-beat is apparent or there are other signs of life.

So at least the Council draws a distinction that the foetus must not have a heart-beat. The guidelines continue:

Those involved with the research using the tissue from a foetus should have no connection with the mother.

Research must only be conducted in institutions that have ethic committees.

The consent of the mother, but not necessarily the father, should be obtained before research takes place on the aborted child.

There should be no element of commerce involved in the transfer of human foetal tissue.

Those who conscientiously object to such research projects should not be forced to take part.

The Council states that those holding positions within the institute should not be jeopardised because of their conscientious objection.

I think that we should be revolted by the practices that are taking place. I remind the House that not only are these experiments taking place, but the experimenters themselves are now building up a bank of human tissues, foetuses and organs for future experiments. It has gone to the point where Sylvia Lawler could write an article called 'The Conception and Development of a Foetal Tissue Bank'. The next thing we will know is that there is a commercial trade in the aborted foetuses. I think that that is the point that we will be reaching in this country. It has happened in other countries, and unless Australia makes a moral and ethical judgment on this matter, it will happen in Australia, too.

I remind the House of something that happened earlier this year. It may not have filtered too far into this part of the world, but those in Britain and Europe were absolutely horrified by the crash of a truck in England. That truck was loaded with aborted foetuses from an abortion clinic in Britain that was taking its consignment to a French cosmetic factory. A consignment of aborted children from England was being sent to a French cosmetic factory for unknown purposes when, unfortunately, it was involved in an accident and its whole sorry load was exposed to the world.

This is what is happening in other parts of the world. A trade is building up in aborted foetuses, and these aborted foetuses, while still in a live state, are being used for medical experimentation. Whether or not the people of Australia, from their own point of view, agree with the process of abortion, I think that all of them should be absolutely horrified and disgusted at this practice of using live foetuses for medical experimentation.