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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1420


Senator WALTERS(4.05) —I would like to congratulate Senator Harradine for bringing forward the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 1985 in respect of which Senator Durack has moved a motion. I believe that all members in this chamber are in agreement on one area and that is that the in vitro fertilisation program should proceed. I certainly support the general thrust of Senator Harradine's Bill. He knows that I support him in his original intention of putting his private member's Bill before the chamber.

Members of the Senate have great difficulty with the Bill because of the various legal and medical opinions that have been put before us. Some of those opinions say that the Bill does indeed interfere with the IVF program while others assure us that it does not. Dr Hennessey, the head of the Queensland Fertility Group, is reported in the Sunday Mail as having said that should Senator Harradine's Bill succeed it would not spell the end of Queensland's IVF program. Yet we have opinions from other people that it certainly would. Professor Correy from the University of Tasmania believes that it certainly would interfere in a very grave way with the IVF program in Tasmania. Mr Ian Johnston says that he has sought legal opinion and believes that the Bill would certainly interfere with the IVF program in Victoria. It is because of this conflicting legal and medical opinion that I support Senator Durack's motion that the Bill be sent to a Senate select committee.

The main emphasis of Senator Harradine's Bill is that every embryo should end up being implanted and that no experimentation should be carried out on an embryo that could possibly lead to its detriment. We are told by the people involved in the IVF program that super ovulation is necessary. We know that the present success rate in an ideal situation in which three embryos are implanted is only 30 per cent. We are told that if one embryo is implanted the success rate would drop to 7 per cent and that certainly would be an unacceptable level. Some say that Senator Harradine's Bill does not allow for freezing at all. Senator Harradine says that it does allow for freezing in the short term to fit in with a woman's cycle. But he also says that he does not approve of long term freezing and I believe that this is one of the very difficult points that we have to face. In the case of long term freezing, embryos which are owned by two parents could, indeed, end up not being wanted by them for implantation. What does one do with them at that stage? Of course, there is a problem in that the sperm can be frozen while the ova cannot. Of course, once that difficulty is overcome, once the ova can be frozen, we will not have the problem that is facing us now in respect of discarding embryos. The ova will be able to be fertilised when they are defrosted. There would not be the problem of discarding that we have at the moment.

An audit is presently being undertaken of all institutions which are involved in the IVF program to ascertain whether the guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council are being abided by. Professor Lovell, who is Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council, assured me that his legal advice was that Senator Harradine's Bill would interfere gravely with the IVF program. As I say, we have had so many conflicting reports in this regard that I believe the only course left open to us is to send the matter to a Senate select committee for it to undertake Senator Harradine's prime aim-that is, for the IVF program to go ahead.

There is only one area in which I definitely oppose Senator Harradine's Bill, and that is where it says that every embryo ought to be implanted. I am assured that at the moment we are on the brink of being able to tell whether or not an embryo could have a genetic disease. At the moment we cannot tell whether mice and human embryos have genetic diseases, although we can tell with domestic animals. Apparently it is possible to tell with domestic animals that an embryo has no genetic disease and that it will be a perfect reproduction. With mice and humans that is not possible yet. Apparently we are on the brink of that knowledge. Senator Harradine's Bill says that no matter what comes of that knowledge every embryo must be implanted. I cannot accept the situation where a doctor must implant an imperfect embryo if he knows that a genetic disease may cause great problems for that child, and problems also would be foisted on the mother. It is a totally different situation when a child is born with some disability but for a doctor to set out and say that he is deliberately implanting an embryo, knowing that the child will be born with some genetic disease, is against every principle I can imagine.

We do know that nature usually takes over in this situation. We know that naturally between 40 and 50 per cent of fertilised embryos are wasted prior to implantation. Often those are what we call blighted embryos, and nature is able to discard the majority of them. Of those embryos that are implanted, one in five miscarries. That is a much larger figure than the average person is aware of, but one in five miscarries quite normally. We also know that of those implanted some develop into other things apart from human foetuses, such as hydatidiform moles. Other forms do develop. So quite naturally a large percentage of fertilised embryos does wither and similarly ova and sperm, that are of course potential life, also wither unless they are united. It is because of the fact that nature itself does deal with the situation to a large extent that I believe it would be wrong for a doctor to implant deliberately an embryo that is not perfect, if he had the knowledge that he was implanting an embryo that had a genetic disease. We have only a very limited time to debate this Bill and as there is only an hour and a half left we do need to come to a vote.


Senator Georges —We are not debating the Bill.


Senator WALTERS —On the motion. I thank the honourable senator. We need to come to a vote on this matter today and it is for that reason that I make my contribution very short.