Don't lift ban on cloning, says Brennan

Jesuit lawyer Fr Frank Brennan said yesterday the Lockhart Committee's call for legislative changes to permit somatic cell nuclear transfer should "be left in cold storage or left to succumb in the light of day."

In his Thomas More lecture in Canberra, Fr Brennan said there has been nothing new in the state of the debate since Parliament's 2002 unanimous banning of all human cloning, including somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), to warrant a revisit of the decision.

"Everyone wants cures for terrible diseases," he said. "There is agreement that embryonic stem cell research has not yet born any results in the cure of disease. The community disagreement in 2005 focused on the same question as it did in 2002."

"The committee has not adduced any evidence of a change in community standards since 2002 and there is no evidence adduced by the Committee of 'developments in medical research and scientific research and the potential therapeutic applications of such research'," he said, quoting from the 2002 cloning legislation.

Fr Brennan explains that SCNT refers to the transfer of the nucleus of a human adult cell into an enucleated human or animal egg, which some scientists claim is not a human clone or a human embryo but merely a collection of cells.

Referring to the Lockhart review, Fr Brennan said that he had bought into the controversy over stem cell research "because I have thought that the Lockhart Committee exceeded its brief and am convinced that some of the advocates for embryonic stem cell research have played fast and loose with the processes of political deliberation."

Recognising that the Australian Parliament and the Council of Australian Governments now need to decide what legislative changes, if any, are required in response to the Lockhart review Fr Brennan warned that lawmakers risk crossing a "moral Rubicon."

"On the vast plain of embryo research, there are two Rubicons," he told the audience at St Thomas More's Church. "The Australian community may well have crossed the first in 2002, given the lack of community reaction to the Parliament's decision to permit experimentation on excess embryos."

"But there is a second Rubicon," he said referring to therapeutic cloning. "Beyond this second Rubicon is a city where the scientist is justified in creating human life only so that he might experiment upon it and destroy it without the need for any respect of the dignity of that potential human life."

"Some of the Australian community are not even prepared to cross the first Rubicon," he said. "Our parliament having crossed the first Rubicon in 2002 and having deliberately stopped short of crossing the second, there is still no evidence of a change in community standards that would warrant the second crossing."

Prime Minister John Howard confirmed this week that cabinet is in favour of maintaining the existing ban on therapeutic cloning but has pledged to allow an open debate on the issue.

A lively discussion is expected at next week's Council of Australian Governments meeting with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie's warning last night that he would join forces with Victoria to explore state options for reform of stem cell research laws.

Public Ethics in Bioethics - A Response to the Lockhart Review (Frank Brennan, 2006 Thomas More Lecture, Canberra 22/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Lockhart Legislation Review Committee of Australia's Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002
Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 (Cth)

The true cost of embryonic stem-cell research (CathNews, 15/6/2006)

Backbench revolt on refugees and stem cells (The Australian 22/6/06)
Editorial: Stem cell refresher, Broader debate is needed on the therapeutic cloning ban (The Australian 23/6/06)

23 Jun 2006