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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 482


Senator HARRADINE(5.52) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This is the second report submitted by Australia in accordance with the Economic and Social Council resolution No. 1988 concerning rights covered by articles 6 to 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is a curious document, to say the least. It deals with issues ranging from Aboriginal employment to ethics in medical research, family planning, various pensions, subsidies and so on. It is a report presumably made pursuant to that international resolution. There are a number of aspects on which I wish to focus but, in view of the time limit, I shall focus on only one aspect this evening. It is contained in page 49 of the report and deals with ethics in medical research. Under the heading `Ethics in Medical Research', without any explanation, the report launches into a statement that in October 1982 the National Health and Medical Research Council adopted the first report of the working party it set up on ethics in medical research. The NHMRC is a body which is able to set guidelines only in respect of those projects which are funded through it. For the report to indicate to the international body that that is the be all and end all of ethics in medical research in Australia is, to say the least, somewhat curious.

I do not wish at present to detail the valid objections made to the Council's guidelines on medical research and experimentation on human subjects, nor do I wish to deal extensively with its current attempt to review certain ethics committees' procedures. But I do wish to say that there have been fundamental problems as a result of the Council's efforts in the past. It has approved human embryo experimentation projects which have been applied for by, for example, the senior lecturer of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Melbourne University. They have been approved by Dr Roger Pepperell, the head of that department, who then wrote to the ethics committee of the Royal Women's Hospital. And who was the chairman of that ethics committee? None other than Dr Roger Pepperell. He then wrote to the NHMRC saying that that committee gave its unqualified approval to that sort of human embryo experimentation, and the Council approved it. I believe that was an improper exercise of its function. My time has run out, but I shall have more to say about that matter and other matters at a later stage. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.