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Church condemns PM decision on stem cell research

"This is a tragic day," said Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan in response to the Prime Minister's proposal yesterday that the States and Territories should allow the use of surplus ART embryos for research purposes.

"Early human life, even from the creation of the first cell is unique, irreplaceable and worthy of the utmost respect and protection," he said. "Harvesting the stem cells from early stage human embryos destroys the embryo. This practice is ethically abhorrent under any circumstances."

Meanwhile Australian Catholic Bishops Conference research fellow Warwick Neville described the move as "a radically dangerous precedent".

He said: "It presents a significant rupture with medical codes of long standing, including the Nuremburg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki."

At yesterday's meeting with the premiers, Mr Howard signalled his approval of stem-cell research on surplus IVF embryos only, making it clear that practices such as therapeutic cloning and the creation of embryos specifically for research remained unacceptable.

"These so-called spare embryos were created to deal with the childlessness of couples," said Dr Neville. "Now, by government fiat, they are deemed for research ... to benefit a bio-prospecting industry, created at public expense, at an annual cost of $60 million."

Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth said Mr Howard has failed to properly consider other sources of stem cells for research.

"We're extremely disappointed that the Prime Minister has done this, we think he's mistaken because a human life is destroyed with stem cells coming from embryos," he said.

Archbishop George Pell of Sydney is expected to make a statement along similar lines today.


5 Apr 2002