Australian supporters of therapeutic cloning are pressing for a conscience vote in Federal Parliament despite opposition from Prime Minister John Howard and some prominent colleagues. Opponents had hoped that Howard would stop the push at a meeting of MPs from the governing coalition at the beginning of the new session. However, he left the matter unresolved and told MPs that he would hold a meeting to discuss the issue in a couple of weeks.
The influential health minister, Tony Abbott, says there must be limits on what scientists are allowed to do. "In my view, therapeutic cloning, so called, is a bridge too far," . He predicted a slippery slope: that scientists would eventually call for an extension of time for growing embryos in the lab. "In a few years time, they would be saying, let’s let it go for 30 days. And a few years beyond that, we would have scientists of high standing telling us that we ought to let it go for three months and so on. I just think that it will be better for all of us if we don’t go down this path."
If the issue were decided by a conscience vote in Parliament, the odds are that it would pass, as most of the media coverage has been favourable, focusing more upon the possibility of cures, the sincerity of scientists and the fear of passing up early entry into a huge new industry. "Australia stands to go backwards, socially and economically, if we don’t act," wrote the premiers of the states of Victoria and Queensland. The acting chair of the Lockhart Committee, which recommended that the government legalise therapeutic cloning, agrees. She feels that moral objections will evaporate as soon as cures are delivered.
Surprisingly, one of the scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep opposes liberalisation. Dr Alan Colman, who is now working in Singapore, said that procuring the eggs needed for therapeutic cloning posed ethical problems for him. "I’m not one to slow down research but you have to ask is it worth pursuing with current techniques or better to wait for other technologies," . "(Stem cell cloning) is a technique that could be useful but I think it’s a bit crude and inefficient at the moment. The balance of probability of the process working against the aspect of human donors giving eggs is just not good enough."
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