Sunday, October 15, 2006



The debate rages on,- legalise or not?

A Private Members’ Bill will be introduced in the Australian Parliament by the previous Health Minister, Senator Kay Patterson to allow the use of embryonic stem cells for cloning for research purposes. The embryonic stem cells can be made to reproduce in the laboratory, the idea being that they can be made to form themselves into any organ cells as required, for the purposes of therapeutically targeting genetically deficient cells of those organs with healthy ones.

This is the theory, but in practice the results have not yet been proven. Therefore there is still a lot of scepticism about this technique and its future therapeutic value. It seems that it is the hope of success which drives this research forward. However, the production of a potential human life in its first embryonic stage for the purpose of destroying it later, is contrary to some people’s religious and ethical beliefs. Hence the strong debates raging in and out of the Australian Parliament, at the end of a 2-year moratorium on this issue. At the moment, only discarded ova after IVF are allowed to be used for this purpose.

Adult stem cells which are much easier to obtain, are also being used at the moment for the same purpose, by introducing a foreign nucleus into the denucleated ovum. Apparently these are not as successful as the embryonic ones.and the researchers are clamouring to be allowed to use the embryonic ones. For these, one needs ova from women’s ovaries plus nuclei from sperms (preferably) to produce the first multiplying embryonic cells in vitro. These are the same as the ones being implanted into the uterus of women undergoing IVF, hence they are a potential human life. Hence the objections.

The other objection is the fact that women will have to donate their ova and this may result in coercion and a “trade” in the purchase of ova to the detriment of women’s health. Some countries such as the UK are already allowed to use embryonic stem cells and they face the dilemma of where to obtain women’s ova in suitable amounts under ethical conditions.

On the other hand, the best researchers will naturally try to go to work in those countries; hence a brain-drain of our finest scientists may result from Australia. I don’t believe that this is a good-enough reason to sell-out our moral principles, unless the end result will really prove to justify the means. Therefore strict regulations and safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that women are not exploited for their ova and that therapeutic cloning needs to have a time-line drawn to prove itself. - If it does not do so within say 5 years,- after already having been tested over many years,- then the program should be abandoned for better techniques!

Malvina Malinek OAM M.Sc.
NCJWA Health Committee

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