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Licenses to Kill

11/20/2006 - 6:10 AM PST

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Embryonic Stem Cell Work Gets Go-ahead

By Father John Flynn

CANBERRA, Australia, NOV. 20, 2006 (Zenit) - Proponents of research using stem cells from human embryos have won a number of victories. In Australia the federal Senate narrowly voted to allow stem cells from cloned embryos to be used for research.

In a 34-32 vote, senators overturned restrictions approved by the upper chamber in 2002, reported the Age newspaper on Nov. 8. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to receive approval.

The vote followed a government report published last year, the Lockhart Review, named after a former judge, John Lockhart, who conducted an inquiry into the issue. His report recommended allowing the cloning of human embryos and the harvesting of stem cells for research.

Those in favor of the measure argued that it was vital in order to allow scientists to undertake experiments to find cures for the sick. Others, nevertheless, warned of the dangerous consequences. "No matter how seemingly well intended the subsequent purpose/use might be," warned John Hogg, a senator for Queensland, during the debate, "the initial action in creating the cloned human embryo crosses fundamental ethical lines."

The approval was greeted with dismay by some politicians, the Australian newspaper reported Nov. 8. Steve Fielding, leader of the political party Family First, said he backed the search for cures for diseases but could not tolerate cloning. "We have crossed a line where we will be creating a human being with the intention of destroying it," he said.

The Catholic Church strongly opposed the lifting of restrictions. In comments published Nov. 2 by the Australian newspaper, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney assailed as an affront to human dignity the idea of "therapeutic cloning" to produce stem cells for research.

Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney gave testimony before the Senate's Community Affairs Committee during hearings on the stem cell issue. He told senators Oct. 20 that the Church does not oppose stem cell research so long as it is conducted in an ethical way.

Denial of dignity

But cloning human beings "is ethically abhorrent," Bishop Fisher stated. "To clone them is a failure of respect for the human being who is manufactured and a denial of universal human dignity."

In a statement issued Oct. 11 the Australian Catholic bishops pointed out that the Church's opposition to the use of embryonic stem cells was not an attempt to impose religious principles in the civil sphere. "We do not argue against destructive experimentation on embryos simply because we are Catholic, but because of basic human values," they explained. "As a society we cannot seek to alleviate the suffering of some people by creating and then killing human life."

In the lead-up to the vote the proposal was also criticized for ignoring women's interests. Monique Baldwin, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience, observed that women must provide a large supply of ova in order to produce the cloned embryos.

Baldwin, whose comments appeared Nov. 8 in the Age newspaper, is an Australian representative of Hands Off Our Ovaries, an international coalition of women.

Extracting the ova, she explained, involved weeks of testing, followed by more than a week of hormone injections. In the process, up to 10% of women develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a painful condition that is sometimes fatal.

Baldwin also questioned the scientific need for allowing cloning. The law already allows research on stem cells from embryos "left over" from in vitro fertilization treatment. Scientists, she noted, have used only 179 "excess" IVF embryos from the more than 104,000 embryos in storage -- yet they are asking for more embryos, deliberately cloned to be destroyed.

Missouri approval

Embryonic stem cell research is going ahead in the United States as well. A referendum held during the elections last week saw voters in Missouri approve a state constitutional amendment prohibiting government officials from banning the use of experiments with embryo stem cells.

The measure was approved of a margin of 51% to 49%, reported the Washington Times on Nov. 9. A number of states have now undermined the federal government's ban on official funding for experiments using embryo stem cells.

According to an analysis published Oct. 5 on the Stateline.org Web site, six states had already taken steps to fund research. So far, California has committed $3 billion for the research; Connecticut has committed $20 million; Illinois, $15 million; New Jersey, $5.5 million; Maryland, $15 million; and Massachusetts, $15 million. Another 27 states, however, have laws restricting embryonic stem cell research.

The vote in Missouri will add to pressure in ...

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