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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1423


Senator WATSON(4.28) —I support the motion moved by Senator Durack to refer certain aspects of Senator Harradine's Human Embryo Experimentation Bill to a Senate select committee. This Bill has generated tremendous media and community interest, as has been mentioned. It has resulted in a flood of letters, both for and against, to the offices of both senators and members. We have all taken a great deal of interest. I find it difficult to arrive at a black or white decision on certain parts of the Bill. I totally support the principle of the Bill that would stop now and in the future experimentation on human embryos that was not in the best interests of the community.

By referring certain aspects of this Bill to a committee, those relating to the interpretation and meaning of certain words, we will overcome a great deal of litigation. I believe that the Bill as it stands would undoubtedly go before the courts and an adverse decision could result in a flood of genetic engineering practices which would be abhorrent to the great majority of Australians. Very few people realise the capabilities of genetic engineering practices, even within Australia. On the other hand, referring certain aspects of this Bill to a Senate committee may fulfil grave fears I have about the interpretation of wording, for example, that prohibits `any manipulation of the relevant human embryo or any procedures undertaken or, involving the use of a relevant human embryo'. Such provisions could end once and for all in vitro fertilisation programs in Australia. I emphasise the words `all programs'.

The Wells report suggests that a number of IVF clinics have already received legal advice to close immediately should this Bill be put to the vote and passed. I think that is another argument in favour of its going before a Senate committee. While the problem of interpretation exists in the minds of the public, the medical fraternity, the church, the legal fraternity and perhaps even the designer of this Bill, I believe the Bill should be subjected to further scrutiny and examination by a Senate select committee before it is put to a vote. There is no way at the moment, I think, as Senator Georges has mentioned, that the Senate could effectively vote on the Bill as it now stands.

Most authorities around the world that have examined the whole question of IVF procedures and experimentation have found that IVF is a legitimate and ethically acceptable procedure if employed in certain conditions. I think the Senate has to direct its attention to what those acceptable conditions are. I have yet to find one report that finds against the use of IVF as against genetic engineering per se. There is widespread acceptance therefore in the community of the use of IVF procedures for infertile couples where the husband and wife supply their own genetic material for the production of an embryo or embryos that will be inserted in the uterus of the wife with the aim of producing a successful pregnancy.

I also acknowledge that there are groups within the same community who object even to such IVF for a number of reasons. Some consider it as unnatural conception and so reject it on legal grounds. Others reject it because the very nature of IVF is experimental and thus there is a risk of damage to either the foetus or the mother, or both. Yet others, who have hang-ups about children being adopted or being born of unnatural means, fear the risk of personality traumas in the children as they develop through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.

A number of fears have been expressed in regard to the adverse effect of technological intervention in the reproductive process. These quite legitimate fears include: The possibility of genetic manipulation to produce a master race, a docile human being or a great athlete-the inventiveness of the human mind is quite extraordinary; the fear of casual experimentation on human embryos-for example, growing embryos in glass dishes until they grow to the foetus stage and are then subjected to experimentation; the fears and legal questions that arise out of the use of surrogate mothers; the fear of the cloning of human beings, which is very real-experimentation in this area should be prohibited; and the grave fears held by many concerning the creation of a genetic hybrid-that is, cross fertilisation of animal and human ova and sperm. Some of these are remote risks that can be adequately dealt with by watertight legislation.

In spite of all these fears and the possible abuses of IVF, the program has the potential to be of tremendous value to human life. Because of the time constraints imposed upon speakers I wish to conclude at that point. I hereby give notice that I wish to participate fully in the debate on the Bill when it comes before the Senate after the select committee has delivered its report.