Lobbying fails in narrow Senate vote on cloning bill

Intense lobbying by Catholics and other groups opposed to stem cell cloning has failed to prevent a controversial private member's Bill to legalise the practice from passing the Senate in a rare conscience vote yesterday.

Parliamentary debate on former health minister Kay Patterson's controversial private member's Bill seeking to legalise the practice began just yesterday and had been expected to last until Friday, the Age reports.

It will now move to the House of Representatives, where MPs will also be given a conscience vote on the issue and are expected to vote the measure into law.

Despite last minute efforts by Catholic Health Australia and other anti-cloning groups, Senators voted 34 to 32 in support of the legislation, which would allow researchers to clone human embryos to extract their stem cells.

The vote followed an emotive and intense debate in the Upper House which showed politicians were fairly evenly divided on the issue.

Should the Bill pass the House of Representatives as well, cloned embryos would have to be destroyed within 14 days and could not be implanted in a woman.

Existing laws allow stem cells to be harvested from surplus IVF embryos, but prevent them from being cloned.

Last minute amendments to the laws, proposed by the Australian Democrats, increase from 10 to 15 years the prison sentence for flouting safeguards designed to prevent abuse of embryonic cloning.

Another amendment stops the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from granting licences for human-animal hybrid embryos.

Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, who chaired a parliamentary inquiry into the Bill, said the Senate had accepted the principle that "one human being ... (could) be used and destroyed for the therapeutic benefit of another", The Australian added.

The Nationals' Ron Boswell, whose wife Leita and grandchildren Tom and Sophie watched the vote from the gallery, said the Senate had given "sanction to distinguishing between two kinds of embryo - one born to live, the other created to die".

Sydney Cardinal George Pell warned at the weekend that the legislation would push Australia down a slippery slope of legalising embryos with multiple genetic parents, as well as human-animal crosses.

UK scientists want to create human-cow hybrid

Meanwhile, New Scientist reports that scientists at the North East England Stem Cell Institute applied this week for permission to create part-cow, part-human embryos for research aimed at treating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The procedure would involve inserting human DNA into cows' eggs that have had their own genetic material removed. The embryos created from this process would then be almost entirely "human", with the only cow DNA being outside the cells' nuclei.

If successful, the human-bovine embryos would not be allowed to develop for more than a few days, the researchers say.

Research team leader, Lyle Armstrong, says the work is necessary "to take this area of stem cell research to the next stage".

However, Calum MacKellar of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics told the BBC: "In this kind of procedure, you are mixing at a very intimate level animal eggs and human chromosomes and you may begin to undermine the whole distinction between animals and humans."

Senate passes stem cell Bill (The Australian, 8/11/06)
Stem cell research gets green light (The Age, 8/11/06
Therapeutic cloning bill passes senate (The Age, 7/11/06)
UK scientists ask permission to create human-cow hybrid (New Scientist, 7/11/06)
British Researchers Want to Do Human-Cow Stem Cell Research (Lifenews, 7/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Senate
Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006 (Australian Senate)

Cloning bill still to be won, says Catholic Health (CathNews, 6/11/06)
Pell slams "pro-cloners" (CathNews, 2/11/06)
No cloning cures for Catholics, says Bishop Fisher (CathNews, 23/10/06)
Bishops step up campaign against cloning (CathNews, 20/10/06)
Proponents of therapeutic cloning should cool it: Pell (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Catholic groups reject claims of stem cells breakthrough (CathNews, 24/8/06)
Poll shows Australians against cloning, Campion Director says (CathNews, 22/8/06)
Abbott lashes "evangelical" stem cell scientists (CathNews, 21/8/06)
Catholic parliamentarians in firing line again over stem cells (CathNews, 16/8/06)
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)

8 Nov 2006