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therapeutic cloning « Previous | |Next »
August 22, 2006

It was only after strong public lobbying by the Liberal backbencher Mal Washer that John Howard, the Prime Minister, agreed to allow a conscience vote on therapeutic cloning, thereby reversing a cabinet decision made in June. The former health minister and now backbencher Senator Kay Patterson will introduce a private member's bill to allow therapeutic cloning and it is expected to be passed by Parliament.

I am suprised by the need to bring political pressure to bear in order to have a public debate about therapeutic cloning--or “cloning-for-biomedical-research”. We need democratic deliberation about cloning-for-biomedical research as this is a subject about which the nation is divided, where there remains great uncertainty, and a coherent national conversation has yet to take place in full in our moral and political culture.

Isn't there is a real concern about where biotechnology might be taking us in terms of redesigning humanity? We are concerned ethically, about the harm to newborn children made of cloning, or about the embryos that might be lost in the process, but about what we might do to ourselves and to others when we start to use the powers biotechnology makes available for purposes beyond the treatment of individuals with specific diseases and disabilities.

Don't we citizens need to be presented, with the competing ethical cases for and against cloning-for-biomedical-research in the form of first-person attempts at moral suasion? Don't we need to recognize, and have outlined, the differences between legitimate therapy and enhancement, as well as the challenges and risks of moving from moral assessment to public policy?

Some argue that the Lockhart report, in which scientists recommend greater access to stem cells, is a long, complex and interesting document, provides the ground for public debate, and that with a brace of private members bills being prepared, the debate is upon us. Not quite. We need somrthing more than the assertions by Tony Abbott, the Minister of Health and Ageing, that endorsing Lockhart would set us on a "slippery slope"; that scientists were not arguing or putting a case, they were "peddling hope"; that "animal-human hybrids" would be on the agenda; and that "the science of therapeutic cloning is identical to the science of reproductive cloning". What is missing is a description of a range of general and specific public policy options in areas of biotechnology that touch on the beginnings of human life in the light of the number of serious problems may accompany the present and future uses of biotechnologies that touch on the beginnings of human life.

What we need in Australia is a National Ethics Council that advises the Parliament on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology. Such a Council would:
1. undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology;
2. explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments;
3. provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues;
4. facilitate a greater understanding of bioethical issues; and
5. explore possibilities for useful international collaboration on bioethical issues.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:56 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

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