Action Alert April 2011

This is an archived edition of Action Alert.

Review of the Therapeutic Cloning Laws

The Federal Government has finally appointed a committee to review the laws relating to human cloning.

In late 2006, the Federal Government passed the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. This Bill maintained the existing ban on reproductive cloning (creating a cloned human embryo, implanting it into a woman’s womb, and developing it normally to birth as a human baby). However the Bill allowed for the legal introduction of so-called therapeutic cloning. In the hope that research scientists would find cures for a range of illnesses and injuries, our national political leaders legalised a process in which ova could be collected – either from women who chose to donate or sell their eggs, or from the bodies of aborted female babies – and those ova be implanted with the genetic material from already existing human beings suffering with an illness or an injury. Each ovum’s twenty-three chromosomes of genetic material would be removed from the cell’s nucleus and replaced with the forty-six chromosomes of the existing person in a process called SCNT (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer), and the resulting cloned cell would be ‘jump-started’ to begin development. This would be allowed to continue for up to two weeks, at which time the developing cloned embryo would be killed to ‘harvest’ its embryonic stem cells so that the ESC could be inserted into the existing person in the hope that they could be triggered into healing the illness or repairing the injury.

However, since this law was passed, further scientific research into adult stem cell technology has completely removed the need to engage in the unethical process of creating human embryos to ‘harvest’ their ESCs. Now, following the scientific breakthrough of Dr Shinya Yamanaka and his team of researcher in 2007 in Japan, scientists can create the exact equivalent of ESCs by taking adult skin cells and ‘directly re-programming’ them, which means that the creation and destruction of human embryos for therapeutic purposes is no longer necessary. Furthermore, the great ‘scientific leap forward’ and the medical cures promised by the advocates of embryonic stem cell technology have still not occurred. Despite many attempts by researchers, no cloned human embryos have been successfully developed past the eight-cell stage, which is well before the point at which ESCs develop and can be ‘harvested’. The science of embryonic stem cell technology simply has not delivered on its promises, and probably never will.

It is timely, therefore, that the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 is being reviewed, although, unfortunately, the Government has chosen well-known supporters of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning to ‘staff’ the review Committee. For example, Professor Loane Skene, who chaired the panel that recommended therapeutic cloning in 2006, is a member of the new review Committee. Will she be prepared to honestly admit that the panel got it wrong in 2006, or will she uphold that decision and urge for more time and more money to keep trying for embryonic stem cell success?

The National Health and Medical Research Council, which is conducting the review, has allowed only a brief period of time for public submissions and comments on the review of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. You can post a submission to NHMRC, GPO Box 1421, Canberra, ACT, 2601 or you lodge a submission at www.legislationreview.nhmrc.gov.au. The main points that need to be made are that embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning have still not delivered any amazing medical cures, and the developments in acquiring induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from adult skin cells – as pioneered by Dr Shinya Yamanaka and his team of researchers – now provide a scientifically better and ethically neutral means of obtaining cells virtually the same as embryonic stem cells. These iPSCs do not produce tumours and do not result in a patient’s immune system rejecting foreign cells (because they were collected from that patient’s own skin in the first place).

The review Committee ought to acknowledge this scientific advance and therefore recommend to the Federal Parliament that the provisions allowing for therapeutic cloning are no longer scientifically justified and should be repealed. The Federal Government ought to then restore the prohibition on all forms of human cloning (as existed before 2006). Contact the Prime Minister to urge the Government to restore this prohibition, regardless of the review Committee’s recommendation – Julia Gillard, Prime Minister [PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, 2600, phone (02) 62777700, or email at the website http://pm.gov.au/PM_Connect/Email_your_PM].

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Who will stand up for me against evildoers?
Who will take his stand for me against those who do wickedness?
Psalm 94:16

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This monthly release is prepared by Pastor Brian Robertson (P O Box 2367, Bundaberg, 4670) to inform Christian people about issues within our society.  “Action Alert” does not promote any one political party, but encourages its readers to be “salt and light” by speaking out on some of these matters.  The views expressed in “Action Alert” are those of the author and are not necessarily those of a local church or a denominational organisation.  To the extent permissible by law, no church or denomination accepts liability for anything contained in this publication and any use made of it.