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Tasmania permits therapeutic cloning in embryo research

6 November 2007
Appeared in BioNews 432

The Tasmanian Parliament has passed legislation to make therapeutic cloning lawful in the state, mirroring Australian federal legislation to this effect. In both Houses of the Tasmanian parliament the Human Cloning and other Prohibited Practices Amendment Bill 2007 was approved amid much controversy and emotive debate. The legislation will permit SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) to create embryos for use in stem cell research. The embryos must be destroyed after 14 days and the penalty for reproductive cloning - the placing of a cloned human embryo into a womb - is set at 15 years imprisonment.

In the Upper House, the Legislative Council approved the measure by 11 votes to three. Kerry Finch, representing the Rosevears electorate, spoke of a balance between the pros and cons of the research. 'On the one hand, there's the potential for breakthroughs in medical research which could save lives and ease suffering. On the other, are the complex medical and ethical issues involved with cloning and embryos for stem cell research,' he said. In the Lower House, where the Bill was passed by 15 votes to nine, an emotional conscience vote saw MPs speaking of personal experiences of disease in support of embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Terry Martin, Elwick independent, told MPs of witnessing his father suffer from Alzheimer's disease - one of the disorders that it is hoped ES cell research may one day therapeutically benefit - on one occasion being called from a function to the nursing home where 'there was my dad, curled up in his bed in the fetal position, screaming, screaming at me to look out for whatever he could see on the floor that I could not see'.

Others found the destruction of embryos inherent in the proposals sufficiently disturbing to cause them to vote against the measure. Brenton Best, Labour for Braddon, was of the opinion that, 'there's just something wrong here'. Tania Rattray-Wagner, independent for Apsley, considered the research a 'step too far' and opposed the 'deliberate creation of human embryos for research and destruction'.

Australian federal law permits therapeutic cloning after a series of legislative measures following the Lockhart Committee's conclusion in support of the technique that persuaded Prime Minister Michael Howard to open up the issue to Parliament in 2006, despite his own personal opposition. Although federal legislation decrees therapeutic cloning lawful, many states nevertheless retained prohibitions on the technique and scientists were prevented from using research facilities in such areas. In rare conscience votes - where MPs are not bound by party lines - many individual states have been overturning such prohibitions generating much debate and controversy in the process. Victoria became the first state to pass permissive cloning legislation, followed by New South Wales, Western Australia and now Tasmania.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Cloning bill passes Tas Lower House
ABC News |  24 October 2007
Life and death debate
Mercury Post |  2 November 2007
Tasmania Passes Therapeutic Embryo Cloning Bill
All Headline News |  1 November 2007
Upper House therapeutic cloning debate adjourns
ABC News |  1 November 2007
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