Premiers face stem cell backlash as Hart criticises debate

Victoria Premier Steve Bracks, who supports legalised therapeutic cloning, and NSW Premier Morris Iemma, who is siding with the Federal Government to ban the process, are facing party backlashes while Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has criticised the failure to consider alternatives to cloning.

The Age reports that Premier Bracks (pictured right), himself a Catholic, is facing a growing backlash from the Catholic Right of his party, and from the Church itself, over his ambition to legalise therapeutic cloning in Victoria.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart on Friday issued a statement calling for the ban on therapeutic cloning to be maintained, declaring the science offered "no benefits and no miracle cures."

"I must criticise the debate," Archbishop Hart said in a statement on Friday, "which neglected to bring into focus the very real health gains, and practical therapies which had come from research using adult and placental stem cells which did not require the creation and destruction of a human embryo."

Right-wing powerbroker and devout Catholic Joe de Bruyn, unionist and influential member of the ALP's national executive, warned Mr Bracks and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie they would be in breach of party policy if they legalised the controversial research.

"The party policy bans cloning. For Steve Bracks (and Peter Beattie) to legalise it would be a most serious transgression, and a breach of party policy," Mr de Bruyn said.

He pointedly praised other state Labor premiers, particularly NSW's Morris Iemma (pictured left) for refusing to endorse the science.

But Mr Iemma, who is also a Catholic, has been heavily criticised in NSW for departing from his predecessor Bob Carr's support for liberalising stem cell research.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Premier Iemma, has been accused of acting like a "Calabrian choirboy" over a decision to reverse the NSW Government policy on human embryonic stem cell research.

Leading Sydney researchers have claimed the Premier has been spooked by implacable Catholic opposition to the process.

As Mr Iemma prepares to celebrate his first anniversary in the job, his decision to side with the Federal Government against the other state Labor governments - and stymie research on therapeutic cloning - has sparked protests from scientists and a political furore amid claims that he has "rolled over to Catholic doctrine".

The Premier insisted the decision to split from attempts by Victoria, Queensland and the ACT to pass state legislation to negate a federal ban on research was because of "unresolved legal issues" and threats over federal research funding for universities.

But the Sydney Morning Herald has claimed that the newspaper has been told that discussion at cabinet level centred not on legal issues but on the "political pragmatism" of quelling opposition by the Church in the run-up to next year's state election.

The paper says that the cabinet debate was led not by Mr Iemma but by the senior minister and leader in the upper house, John Della Bosca, and the Minister for Energy, Ports and Waterways, Joe Tripodi. Both have expressed concern about the creation of embryos for medical research.

Mr Iemma defended the decision: "There is little point having individual jurisdictions acting unilaterally in the face of any determined action at a Commonwealth level to stymie research in this field," he argued.

Steve Bracks photo by Anthony Agius

Stem-cells backlash for Bracks (The Age 22/7/06)
Labor row erupts over stem cell policy shift (Sydney Morning Herald 22/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archbishop Urges Honesty in Stem Cell Debate (Archbishop Denis Hart, Press Release, 21/7/06)

Catholics divided over stem cells (CathNews, 14/7/06)
Don't lift ban on cloning, says Brennan (CathNews, 23/6/06)

Stemming the super science (Sydney Morning Herald 22/7/06)

24 Jul 2006