ANOTHER REPORT THROWN INTO AUSTRALIAN STEM CELL DEBATE
A report to the Australian Prime Minister and his Cabinet could undercut the support of some parliamentarians for the legalisation of therapeutic cloning. The engine for legislative change is a review published late last year by the Lockhart Committee. This argued strongly for therapeutic cloning, a redefinition of the human embryo, hybrid stem cells and other innovations. Members of the committee and supporters of therapeutic cloning have insisted that their review was objective, independent and unbiased and ought to be accepted by Parliament.
However, in an apparent attempt to blindside supporters, a report was commissioned by the Prime Minister from a Canberra consulting group. It was asked to assess whether scientific advances warranted changing the 2002 law. This piece of legislation was passed after a long, emotional and exhausting debate across party lines — and Prime Minister John Howard obviously does not care to have this repeated. The report, submitted in June, but released to the public only recently, found that there had been no significant changes in the intervening four years.
How this development will affect the increasingly heated debate ahead of a conscience vote in Parliament remains to be seen. Lockhart committee member Professor Peter Schofield dismissed it as "a fairly shallow analysis". And IVF specialist Professor Robert Jansen blamed the lack of advances on the lack of research due to Australia’s overly restrictive legislation.
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