Catholic parliamentarians in firing line again over stem cells

Health Minister, Tony Abbott, and other Catholic parliamentarians are back at the centre of political debate as a result of the Prime Minister's announcement of a conscience vote on the cloning of foetal stem cells.

"I appreciate that there is a lot of emotion around this because there are a lot of people out there who are hanging on cures, and they think that various forms of research might offer it to them," Tony Abbott yesterday told the ABC's 7.30 Report.

"I just offer these two cautionary notes: first of all, there is very little real evidence that embryonic stem cell research is the health nirvana that some of its more enthusiastic advocates portray. I think that some people have been guilty of over-pedalling hope to vulnerable people in this area.

"The second point that I make is that so-called therapeutic cloning is basically translating a Dolly the Sheep-type situation to human beings and I think that we should think long and hard before going down that path," the Health Minister said, referring to the first successful cloning of a mammal.

Queensland's Senator Barnaby Joyce criticised the decision to re-open debate on the issue.

"I don't believe we should have a debate on slavery either. You know, I'm happy I would win the debate, but there are issues that I don't wish to debate, not because I'm scared of the debate, but I think just debating them gives an imprimatur, a start-off imprimatur to that position."

Describing the Prime Minister's decision as "a major concession to supporters of therapeutic cloning", The Age reports that "after virtually ruling out a conscience vote on the issue just ten days ago, the Prime Minister yesterday told senior ministers he believed that sentiment in the Coalition parties had shifted.

"His change of heart gives a green light to Parliament considering private members legislation to allow more embryonic stem cell research," The Age reports.

Mr Howard's comments to ministers preceded a special party room debate on therapeutic cloning yesterday. About 12 MPs debated whether Canberra should implement the Lockhart review, which recommended legalising the practice.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, also a Catholic, who has previously signalled Victoria might go it alone on legalising therapeutic cloning, also welcomed the shift.

"Victoria, with its wealth of medical talent, has the potential for great breakthroughs in stem cell research and the current regulatory environment acts as a barrier to this," Mr Bracks' spokeswoman Alison Crosweller told the Age.

In another related development, LifeNews reports that although the Australian parliament approved transferring responsibility for approving sales of the dangerous RU486 abortion drug from the Health Minister to the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA), the Health Department may nevertheless be able to prevent sales of the drug.

Two abortion practitioners have received approval from the TGA to sell the abortion drug - which is responsible for the deaths of 12 women worldwide - locally to their patients.

In July, one of the two abortion practitioners who received approval indicated she knows a foreign company that plans to file an application with the Government to sell the mifepristone abortion drug nationwide.

Should the TGA approve nationwide sales, Mr Abbott said the Department of Health and Ageing's secretary could cancel a company's TGA registration to sell the drug.

"Cancellation of the registration of the product means that the product can no longer be legally marketed and supplied in Australia," he said in response to questions from MP John Murphy, who opposes abortion.

The Herald Sun reported that Abbott added, "This may take effect immediately in circumstances where it appears that failure to cancel the registration would create imminent risk of death, serious illness or serious injury."

"In other circumstances, the sponsor may have the opportunity to submit additional information addressing the basis of the proposed action before a decision is made," he said.

PM to allow stem cells conscience vote (ABC AM, 15/8/06)
PM opens door to clone research (The Age, 16/8/06)
Australia Health Department Could Prevent RU 486 Abortion Drug Sales (LifeNews, 14/8/06)
Department retains RU-486 control (Herald-Sun, 14/8/06)

Catholic union official compares therapeutic cloning to Nazi experiments (CathNews, 4/8/06)
Premiers face stem cell backlash as Hart criticises debate (CathNews, 24/7/06)
Catholics divided over stem cells (CathNews, 14/7/06)
Don't lift ban on cloning, says Brennan (CathNews, 23/6/06)
RU486 decision a bitter pill (CathNews, 17/2/06)
Pell says Australia changing its mind on abortion (CathNews, 15/2/06)
Catholic groups decry Senate vote (CathNews, 10/2/06)
Catholic and Evangelical students join Muslims in RU-486 fight (CathNews, 9/2/06)
Abbott says attacks are sectarian (CathNews, 9/2/06)
Bishop Fisher says RU406 won't curb abortions (CathNews, 7/2/06)
Catholic GPs ready to quit over RU-486 (CathNews, 3/2/06)
Life Office criticises advertiser's gag on abortion debate (CathNews, 1/2/06)
Churches lead RU406 protest (CathNews, 30/1/06)
Day of action to fight abortion drug move (CathNews, 27/1/06)
Melbourne Archbishop says maintain abortion drug ban (CathNews, 25/1/06)
Pope says 'no' to gay marriage, abortion pill (CathNews, 13/1/06)
Catholic Health to address abortion pill inquiry (CathNews, 15/12/05)

16 Aug 2006