April 20, 2024


Another Australian state is on the road to approving therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. After a heated debate in the media, the lower house of the New South Parliament has voted 65 to 26 to support it, following the lead of its southern neighbour, Victoria. But generating even more controversy than the scientific and ethical issues of stem cell research were remarks by the outspoken Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. He has had to weather a blizzard of criticism over his comment that Catholic parliamentarians faced unspecified “consequences” for their religious life if they supported the bill.

Premier Morris Iemma, a Catholic, voted for the bill. “I’ve already thought seriously about this legislation and it passes all the ethical and moral issues that I need passed, and gives people hope,” he said. Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees even suggested that Pell’s intervention might constitute contempt of parliament. This was also mooted on the other side of Australia, in Perth, where similar remarks made by Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey were referred to that state’s parliamentary privileges committee. Speaker Fred Riebeling said they had been “threatening” to MPs.

Cardinal Pell, who funds adult stem cell research, was unmoved. “Adult stem cell has been much more productive than work on embryonic stem cells, which so far has proved to be a dead end. Little has been produced except massive grants for the researchers,” he argues.