Australia is also debating the legality of cloning for stem cell
research. But in contrast to the debates in the United States, the
dialogue in Australia is remarkably open, and contains much less
of the exaggerated rhetoric seen here.
A pair of widely
debated 2002 laws prohibited both research and reproductive cloning,
affirmed the legality of stem cell lines derived from leftover IVF
embryos, and required researchers using human embryos to apply for
a license from federal administrators. After a rare conscience vote—in
which members of Parliament are freed from voting their party's
line—these policies passed unanimously with the agreement that
they would be reviewed in three years.
the Minister of Ageing appointed a six-member committee to review
the laws, and it issued its final report in December 2005—coinciding
with the peak of the cloning scandal centered in South Korea. The
committee recommended loosening the laws, including permitting research
cloning under a licensing system. This proposal has been highly
Minister John Howard rejected the recommendations. But after pressure
from backbenchers and dissent within his own cabinet, in August
he announced that Parliament would hold a vote of conscience on
on the issue have been more fluid than in the U.S. Although members
of the conservative parties in the governing coalition tend to oppose
lifting the research cloning ban, and opposition Labor party members
tend to support the change, significant numbers have expressed opinions
that cross these party lines. Scientists who support embryonic stem
cell research also differ among themselves on the topic of research
cloning; some have broken ranks and publicly opposed lifting the
research cloning prohibition (1,2).
much of the debate is focusing on the source of eggs for widespread
cloning-based stem cell research. Some feminists
are concerned about the health effects for women providing eggs,
as well as possible coercion—even though the committee recommended
maintaining a ban on all payments for biological materials.
is not without its flaws. For example, although the legislative
review committee was mandated to be unbiased, at least three of
its six members had previously expressed support for research cloning.
cloning advocates say they will disregard the outcome of the vote
if it goes against them. The premier of Victoria, the center of
Australia's biotechnology industry, has announced
that he would "go it alone" and allow the practice in
his state if the federal government maintains the ban.
What is perhaps
most notable is the dramatic shift of some former research cloning
opponents into the ranks of supporters. Just four years ago, many
of these now-supporters made strong statements against the practice
of research cloning. Much of their current argument seems to be
grounded in the perceived need to remain economically competitive.
A vote is expected
later this year.