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Australian review of stem cell laws

5 September 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 324

In Australia, a public consultation on two pieces of federal legislation which govern cloning and embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research is due to end this week. The two Acts, passed in 2002, together ban reproductive cloning, prevent scientists from cloning embryos to obtain stem cells and restrict them to research on surplus IVF embryos conceived before the acts were passed. The six-member Legislative Review Committee is chaired by John Lockhart, a former Federal Court judge, and is due to deliver its findings to the Federal Parliament by 19 December 2005.

After the public consultation closes on 9 September, the Review Committee will begin to look in more detail at developments in reproductive technology, and medical and scientific research since 2002. Among the things it will consider is a proposal for a national stem cell bank. The committee is already hearing evidence in Australia's major cities and will continue to do so through September and October, before compiling its report and recommendations.

Last week it was reported that of more than 200 submissions to the public consultation, only two were from scientific groups. The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) and the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMRA) have both responded: both are in favour of ES cell research using embryos left-over from fertility treatments and donated for research purposes. In addition, their submissions call for the 2002 Act to be amended to allow therapeutic cloning of embryos for research into disease and debilitating injury. John Lockhart confirmed that the majority of submissions had come from individuals or small Christian groups who see ethical problems with embryo and ES cell research. Professor Bob Williamson, a medical geneticist from Melbourne University and co-author of the AAS submission to the public consultation, said that ethical issues were not raised until someone tried reproductive cloning. 'As long as the cells stay in the Petri dish in the laboratory, they are no ethical risk', he said.

More recently, Professor Martin Pera, a leading Australian ES cell scientist, has said that he would consider leaving the country if the current restrictions are not lifted. His ability to work in Australia 'would be compromised relative to my colleagues around the world', he said. Meanwhile, in evidence presented to the Review Committee at the beginning of September, Professor Peter Rathjen, from Adelaide University's faculty of science, said that stem cell research will 'change the face of science in coming years'. He added that the current laws limit advancement and potential for a multi-million dollar stem cell industry in Australia.

Australia 'needs stem cell bank'
The Melbourne Age |  1 September 2005
Cloning ban may force top scientist out
ABC News |  5 September 2005
Embryo opponents make voices heard
The Australian |  29 August 2005
Laws 'hamper' stem-cell research
The Australian |  2 September 2005
31 July 2006 - by Sarah Chan 
Embryonic stem cell research around the world has suffered some political setbacks in recent weeks. First, Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected the recommendations of the Lockhart Review that the current law should be amended to permit research into therapeutic cloning; a few weeks later, President Bush overruled the votes...
17 July 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
State premiers in Australia have issued a direct challenge to Prime Minister John Howard's decision to maintain the status quo on embryonic stem (ES) cell research in the country. They used last week's COAG (Council of Australian Governments) meeting in Canberra to tackle Howard on his...
26 June 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Australia's Cabinet has decided to keep in place a federal ban on therapeutic cloning research, rejecting the advice of an expert review published last year. Last December, a six-member Legislative Review Committee, chaired by the now deceased John Lockhart, a former Federal Court judge, recommended that...
6 April 2006 - by BioNews 
The Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, has stated that politicians voting on how to reform laws on cloning and stem cell research in the country should be allowed to vote according to their conscience. In doing so, he stated that he planned to attempt to block the proposed relaxation of the...
27 March 2006 - by BioNews 
The debate on cloning and stem cell research is continuing in Australia, with politicians voicing their opinions on how the law should regulate the practices following the publication of the Lockhart Report late last year. The six-member Legislative Review Committee, chaired by John Lockhart, a former Federal Court judge, looked...
8 July 2005 - by BioNews 
An independent committee has been set up to review Australia's human cloning and embryo research laws. Human cloning was banned in 2002 and strict controls were placed on the use of human embryos in research. Only surplus IVF embryos can be used for research. However, scientists say it is vital...
20 June 2005 - by BioNews 
At a conference on global biotechnology being held in Philadelphia, US, Steve Bracks, the Premier of the Australian state of Victoria, has announced that a second Australian human embryonic stem (ES) cell line is to be made available to researchers worldwide without commercial or intellectual property restraints. The cell line...
29 March 2005 - by BioNews 
Australian scientists will be able to use embryos left over from fertility treatment to derive new embryonic stem (ES) cell lines, following Prime Minister John Howard's decision not to extend a moratorium on such research. The three year ban, put in place to allow more time to debate the ethics...
19 April 2004 - by BioNews 
Two Australian clinics have been granted licences by the Australian federal Government to conduct research on embryos left over from fertility treatments and donated for research purposes, the first such licences to be issued in the country. Following the issue of the licences by the National Health and Medical Research...
9 December 2002 - by BioNews 
The Australian Senate has passed an amended version of a bill that will allow research to take place on stem cells derived from unused embryos left over from IVF programmes and donated for research purposes. Human reproductive cloning was banned in Australia in June 2001. A long consultation process was...
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