Bracks defies Pope on cloning

Defending new cloning laws he is introducing into Victoria's parliament, Catholic premier Steve Bracks has rejected a warning by Pope Benedict that Catholic politicians should refer to their religion above all else in making political decisions.

The pope should respect the separation between Church and state, Mr Bracks said, according to The Age.

"We are in a secular state and we make decisions based on what we believe is in the best interests of our community. That's how I have always operated," Mr Bracks said.

However, state cabinet member and Sports and Recreation Minister, James Merlino, has said that he will vote against the therapeutic cloning of human embryos that will be under the premier's plan.

Mr Merlino also announced his opposition to the "half-baked" bill at a Parliament House forum organised by former minister, Christine Campbell and backbencher, Tammy Lobato.

Mr Merlino said he would oppose the bill "because it allows the creation of human embryos, the beginning of human life, for the specific purpose of destroying them for research".

Meanwhile, Dr Greg Pike - brother of Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, who introduced the bill to State Parliament last week and will vote in favour of it - said he opposed the bill.

Dr Pike is a leading bioethicist at the Southern Cross Institute in Adelaide, and said yesterday: "If I was there, I would be voting against it."

Catholic bioethicist, Nick Tonti-Filippini, who is a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, which is responsible for revising the National Health and Medical Research Council's ethical guidelines, urged parliamentarians "not to legislate in haste".

South Australia may follow Victoria

In a related story, South Australian Labor identities have called for a conscience vote over similar laws that may be introduced in that state.

South Australia's Sunday Mail reports that divisions are already emerging in the state Labor Party over the draft law plans.

But Health Minister John Hill's office told the paper that reports that a bill was about to be introduced were premature.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hill said that the health department was investigating options including drafting a new bill or amending existing legislation but that the issue has not yet been taken to Cabinet.

Meanwhile, key members of Labor's Right faction have declared they would oppose any moves to introduce cloning of human embryos.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said he would vote against any such bill. "Human life is sacred, I don't believe in creating it for therapeutic purposes," he said.

State secretary of the Shop Distributors and Allied Employees Association and Labor Right faction leader Don Farrell also said a conscience vote would be the appropriate way to deal with such legislation.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who only learned of the proposal yesterday, said he would "examine it carefully" before commenting.

The archbishop is also President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

Photo: James Merlino

Push for free vote on cloning (Adelaide Now, 18/3/07)
Minister to defy Bracks on cloning (The Age, 15/3/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
The Premier, Victoria
Archbishop Denis Hart, Melbourne
James Merlino (Victorian Parliament)
Michael Atkinson (SA Parliament)

Archbishop Hart condemns cloning laws
Christianity not driver in cloning vote: Garrett (CathNews, 19/12/06)
Christian opposition fails to stop cloning bill passage (CathNews, 7/12/06)
Late amendment puts cloning bill passage in doubt (CathNews, 6/12/06)

19 Mar 2007