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Catholic bishops call on PM to present all the facts on stem cells

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has sent a letter to Prime Minister John Howard endorsing the ban on cloning but expressing deep concerns with the decision to allow destructive research on embryos.

The letter to the Prime Minister comes in the light of private consultations to be held next week by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to discuss draft legislation implementing the April decision of COAG to ban cloning but to allow harvesting of stem cells from frozen embryos.

The bishops letter states "We urge you to make available to all members of the Australian public in general and the Members of Parliament in particular all the information necessary to aid informed decision making."

In particular, published, refereed work by Australian embryonic stem cell researchers, apparently used in reaching the COAG decision, be provided to the public, and that the extensive and growing list of research findings by adult stem cell researchers also be made public.

The Bishops point out the regularly changing position of certain embryonic stem cell scientists who initially indicated there were sufficient embryonic stem cell lines but now suggest that access to frozen embryos is needed to create more ES cell lines.

"There appears to have been little reflection on the extremely close link between the agitation to harvest stem cells from human embryos and the significant financial gains, via drug patents and other such matters to be made by researchers and their corporate share holders from human embryo-destroying research. Profit of this type easily commercialises human life and turns it into a commodity."

Australian society faces unprecedented moral, ethical and legal questions concerning the application of processes borrowed from animal bio-technology to the human race. "We are entering unchartered territory and it is important that our moral compasses are set correctly" the Bishops state.

"We believe that the use of one person for the benefit of another is a violation of the foundations of a democratic society."

Text of Australian Bishops' letter to the Prime Minister


23 May 2002