Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stem Cell Research Bill

Liberal Senator Kay Patterson and Democrat Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja are both preparing Private Members Bills to allow the use of stem cells from embryos to be used in research for therapeutic cloning.

It is not surprising, given their political differences, that 2 senators should be preparing bills on the same subject matter. As a society, and individually, though, we need to consider the ethical, and political implications.

Ethical Considerations: the ethics of research using human embryos is fraught with political, social and religious ethics. Society rightly prohibits experimentation on other humans, and the debate about whether an embyo is human will not be won or lost here. It is a fact that there are frozen human embryos left over from IVF programs, and some of them are unwanted for that purpose.
  • Does that mean they are "available" for other purposes, even if that means human embryos will be destrotyed?
  • Recent news stories suggest a US team has developed a process of extracting stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo. The destruction of embryos has certainly been an ethical stumbling block for stem cell research.
  • If the embryo has been thawed to let it develop and produce stem cells, what then? Can it be re-frozen? Can it be reused? Is it expendable because it is "unwanted" for pregnancy purposes?
These questions need to be addressed by society. There will be a wide range of views on these questions, from staunchly religioous to staunchly humanistic, but they will all arouse passion of some sort in most people.

Political Implications: Why would John Howard allow a conscience vote? Because he's a nice guy and thinks MPs should be able to make up their own minds? Not on your Nellie! John Howard is an astute politician. He has largely insisted on strict party adherence to (his) party room decisions. His decision to allow a conscience vote should be seen in the following light.

  • the government has had bad press lately over a number of events and issues.
  • this is potentially another divisive issue, with Tony Abbott among the more rsistive to change, while som eothers have a more humanisitic approach.
  • the debate is likely to be ongoing, with both for and against arguments or statements to the press. We could forget that the Cole Inquiry into AWB corruption is due to report at the end of next month, and that more than 20 QCs asked the Attorney General to let Commissioner Cole ask questions of politicians. He declined the request.
A conscience vote allows our democracy to work at its best. It doesn't guarantee that "correct" decisions will be made, but alt least MPs and Senators will have to think, rather than simply "toe the party line", as they are used to doing under Mr Howard and Mr Beazley.

Mr Howard has allowed a conscience vote, because, ultimately, he would be unable to control party members with a wide range of differing views on stem cell research.

The Analyst