Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Hansard 2007-05-02 Cloning Speech

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“Mr Scheffer, in his contribution, said that he does not accept that the cloned embryo is a potential human being. I agree. There is nothing potential about it; it is a human being ... The embryo is a person, and it looks exactly like a person should look at that stage of development.”

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) —

I intend to speak at some length this evening because I believe this is an issue that warrants considerable discussion and comment. I express the opinion first that I am disappointed that many members are not here because many actually told me they would listen carefully to the debate before they voted. Many of those members are not in the chamber. It may be helpful if they were here, although they may still be able to hear something of the debate — I understand that.

We are to vote according to our consciences whether or not to allow embryos to be cloned, experimented upon and then destroyed. The question is whether or not to cross what the federal opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, called in the commonwealth Parliament an ‘ethical threshold’. I think perhaps ‘ethical precipice’ would be a better term. I agree with Mr Rudd that we should not cross that ethical barrier. We should not, in his terms, create life for the explicit purpose of experimentation and destruction. It is clearly wrong to destroy the weak in order to benefit others. Human life should never be an industrial material. As has been noted before in this house, human beings are ends in themselves, not means to ends.

In addition to these clear ethical principles, there are other associated principles and considerations and very good pragmatic reasons for opposing embryonic stem cell research. The inherently unethical nature of this proposal, the damage to women’s health that it would necessarily involve and the diversion away from more ethical and more promising fields of research all show that the proper choice is clearly to oppose this bill.

This bill is extraordinary for several reasons. First, the bill covers separate, largely unrelated matters. Human cloning for research purposes is not infertility treatment, and this controversial part of the bill should be in a separate bill by itself. The language of this bill is less than candid. SCNT, or even somatic cell nuclear transfer, may sound more acceptable, but it is less than forthright. The subject matter should be referred to as what it is — cloning. We have had some speakers say they would never accept reproductive cloning. Reproductive cloning is tautologous — all cloning is reproductive. All cloning produces another person or animal. That is the nature of the process — the production or reproduction of another person or animal.

This bill says that it is about therapeutic cloning. In fact it is just the opposite. This bill is not about treatments in itself. The hope is that maybe some years in the future it may lead to treatments. By its nature this bill is about reproductive cloning, with the hope perhaps some time in the future of developing therapies from that reproductive cloning. If members have been correct in saying that they are absolutely opposed to reproductive cloning, they will vote against this bill. I noticed that one member said she felt she was quite sure that the human material involved in the cloning under this bill will be treated respectfully. I really do not understand how you respectfully destroy a cloned person.

In my view there are very strong limits on the proper role of governments in enforcing morality, but the first role of any government or legal system is to prevent harm being done to other people. This necessarily demands, first, that people are not killed and, second, that they are prevented from killing others. Life is so important because it is a prerequisite to every other good. When a person is killed, so is every potential, every chance, every opportunity. When we kill, we take everything away. Life is an individual’s paramount right, and its protection is every state’s primary duty.

The embryo is a human being. Mr Scheffer, in his contribution, said that he does not accept that the cloned embryo is a potential human being. I agree. There is nothing potential about it; it is a human being.

The embryo does not look like the other people that we are accustomed to seeing, so some people conclude that the embryo is not a person. The embryo is a person, and it looks exactly like a person should look at that stage of development.

It has sometimes been claimed, even explicitly in the other house, that the embryos to be created and destroyed under this bill are not human because they are cells, or because they are extremely small, or because they are not viable. In a material sense, what are any of us here but cells? Everyone in the world is just a collection of cells in a material sense. As for the human beings to be destroyed by this bill being tiny, are we to believe that large people are more entitled to life than small people? Are the tall to be protected more than the short? Are the obese more worthy of life than the skinny? Of course not; size has nothing to do with it.

It is sometimes claimed that viability is analogous to personhood; that is that the human embryo should not be considered human if it can be shown that it cannot survive long, and I think Mr Drum addressed that point very well. The principle underlying this assertion is not correct in any case. Surely even a dying person is a person even if that person cannot live very long. In any case, the assumption that a cloned embryo is not viable is incorrect. The cloning technology that we would authorise by this bill is precisely the same technology that created Dolly the sheep, and, like Dolly the sheep, these human embryos could go on and develop into adulthood. I do not say personhood, because they are already people.

Two or three weeks ago I was at one of the seminars held by experts who came in to talk to members of Parliament. In the course of one of the seminars a young member said to the panel in a very agitated way, ‘Look, would you please settle something once and for all. These human embryos cannot go on and live into adulthood, can they? People come to my office and they tell me they can, but I keep telling them, “No, you are wrong”, and they yell back at me, “No, you’re wrong; they can grow into adulthood”. Would you please settle that for me once and for all’. The expert was a little bit embarrassed. She obviously did not want to immediately deflate the person who asked the question. After a short hesitation she said, ‘Well, theoretically they are right, but in a practical sense you are right because the bill mandates the destruction of the embryo after 14 days’. I was shocked by that answer; I was flabbergasted. What is the logic of that answer? Any person or group of people — any category of person — which the law mandates to be killed, automatically, by that law cease to be human. Why? Because they are no longer viable. Why? Because we passed a law saying they have to be killed.

The world has seen quite a bit of that kind of logic before, and I think it has always had disastrous consequences. The lives to be experimented on, to be engineered and destroyed, under the bill will indeed be composed of tiny, artificially conceived cells which are vulnerable and in the earlier stages of development. They will also be genetically complete, living, growing and human.

There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that neatly encapsulates a very interesting characteristic of human beings. That characteristic is that we tend to be more moved, more motivated, more persuaded by what we see than by what we know. The human embryo is a human even if we cannot see it — even if we cannot see him or her. I say ‘him or her’ advisedly, because although the sex of the embryo may not be apparent it is determined at conception. The human embryos to be destroyed under the bill will be male or female. In respect to considering the humanity of the unborn embryo. I ask that all members think with their mind and not with their eyes.

The bill would authorise the creation and destruction of some human beings for the benefit — it is argued — of another category of human beings — another class of people clearly assumed to be of more value than those to be destroyed. In contributing to the development of categories or classes of human life — and the bill does do that — we might ask: into which category will we put the sick, the deceased and the injured; those whom the bill purports to benefit? Those who are deficient in any sense will surely not be assumed to be in the top class of humans. In other words, in creating a hierarchy of human worth the bill will demean and degrade precisely those whom it purports to help. A related point was made by the member for Box Hill in the other place. He said ‘once we become used to treating some life as not worthy of living or as an object to be used for the ends of others, we undermine the grounds for protecting any human life’.

History is full of examples of denying recognition as human beings to others. If history has taught us anything, is it not that we must avoid denying human recognition to other people? Does not every historical example fill us with revulsion, and is this not precisely what the bill does? Does the bill not propose to do this on the basis of age and/or level of development? Much has been made in the debate in Australia about the other countries that allow cloning and destruction of embryos. We have heard less about the fact that some countries have banned the practice. They include the Italians, the Austrians and the Germans, who are admirably learning from their historical experiences. I think we too should learn from their history. We should also note that in 2005 the General Assembly of the United Nations urged all countries to ban cloning, and I quote ‘Inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life’.

The cloning envisaged would require huge numbers of human eggs. It took 430 sheep ova to clone Dolly the sheep. It was revealed following the scandal in South Korea last year that the scientist who had attempted human cloning had used well over 2000 ova from 122 women without success. Egg harvesting normally results in around 12 to 20 eggs, although sometimes more. This means that it will take the eggs of many dozens or hundreds of women to clone a single embryo. Large numbers of ova are not easily obtained.

The extraction of ova from a woman is not a simple procedure. It involves massive courses of hormones and invasive procedures with significant risks. The reproductive organs of donors may swell massively during this process and discomfort is the least of it. It was alleged by Women’s Forum Australia in its submission to this Parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee that six women are known to have died in the United Kingdom alone from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS. Much more common than deaths is damage to organs and likely future fertility problems resulting from these procedures. Mr Drum also noted future genetic defects, about which I have not been aware.

Like it or not, regulate against it or not, passage of this bill would see a market develop for ova as it already has in the United Kingdom, where women are paid £250 for their expenses.

The first rule of medicine is ‘Do no harm’. How is this procedure compatible with that first maxim of medicine which has been around for well over 2000 years from the time of Hippocrates? It is precisely because of the combination of the requirement for huge numbers of ova and the difficulty of obtaining them that some experts, including Professor Alan Trounson himself, say that embryonic stem cells are unlikely to result in the medical advances that some of its proponents claim. In Reproduction, Fertility and Development, Professor Trounson said:
… it is unlikely that large numbers of mature human oocytes would be available for the production of ES — embryonic stem — cells, particularly if hundreds are required to produce each ES cell line. The technical capability for nuclear transfer would also need to be widely available and this is unlikely.
There are many deficiencies, technically as well as ethically, with embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have an inherent tendency towards explosive growth. Attempts to use embryonic stem cells have so far invariably led to the development of extremely aggressive tumours. This has been the case in animal trials and, indeed, human trials — for example, last year embryonic stem cells caused cancer in every single one of the rats into which they were injected. It seems very doubtful that such an inherent tendency will ever be overcome.
Furthermore, although it seems likely upon initial consideration that clones might eventually provide rejection-free transplants, there are very good scientific reasons for thinking that this is actually quite unlikely. It seems that, to put it simply, the very act of cloning damages the clone’s cells rendering them unsuitable for transplantation. Quoting Professor Trounson again from the same document:
… epigenetic remnants of the somatic cell used as the nuclear donor can cause major functional problems in development … which must remain a concern for ES cells derived by nuclear transfer.
It also states:
… it would appear unlikely that these strategies will be used extensively for producing ES cells compatible for transplantation.
Embryonic stem cells collect mutations, and the stem cells will very probably be degraded by the process of cloning itself. This is likely to contribute to their tendency to produce tumours when transplanted and cause them to be much less effective in transplants than we might hope for. This might partially explain why Dolly was plagued by health problems and only lived to be half the life span of a normal sheep. In addition, of course, the clone is genetically the age of the donor at the time of donation. From conception the clone is genetically the age of the donor.

In the United States of America last month Senator Brownback of Kansas put the score for embryonic stem cell research as 613 to zero. That is $613 million of US federal government money, plus a lot more from other levels of government plus non-government sources, including $3 billion presumably that Mr Drum referred to earlier. The results? Zero! Nothing useful has so far come from this investment. How much more might have come from investment in other, more effective stem cell technologies?

Embarking on the embryonic cloning path is likely to actually detract from medical advances by leading away from other avenues of research that are not only much more ethical but also more promising. Research on different types of non-embryonic stem cells have already shown great results and amazing promise.

First, adult stem cells. Adult stem cells grow in an ordered, regular way. Research with adult stem cells, which does not involve the destruction of human life, has so far led to more than 70 cures or treatments for conditions including Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Adult stem cell technologies were recently shown to deliver results for people with spinal cord injuries, such as those treated by Dr Carlos Lima in Portugal, who reported last year on the transplant of nasal stem cells into seven patients with long-term spinal cord injury. Breakthroughs based on adult stem cells are announced almost weekly, including a Melbourne-based one in the treatment of heart attacks reported on 3 April this year.

Professor Alan Mackay-Sim of Brisbane, neuroscientist and researcher and Queenslander of the Year for 2003, has said that adult stem cells can do everything that is hoped embryonic stem cells might be able to do. They can be obtained from a range of disease sufferers and can be tweaked into the relevant cell type for genetic study and cell testing. Professor Mackay-Sim considers adult stem cells to be superior to embryonic stem cells, because they do not carry the genetic damage caused by the cloning process, they do not incorporate mitochondrial DNA, are more easily and cheaply obtained and readily multiplied and more stable genetically.

The potential of adult stem cells alone has rendered the case for cloning, as Professor Mackay-Sim puts it, irrelevant and impractical. Irrelevant and impractical — that is what Professor Mackay-Sim, Queenslander of the Year and scientist, says about embryonic stem cells. That potential has been demonstrated by the development of treatments or cures for 26 types of cancers including the brain tumours medulloblastoma and glioma, retinoblastoma, ovarian cancer, the skin cancer merkel cell carcinoma, testicular cancer, tumours abdominal organs lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are 73 diseases and illnesses listed in this document which are now curable or treatable, to some extent at least, because of research done on adult stem cells. Each listing has a peer review journal reference. In fact, this is slightly out of date because it does not include the breakthrough announced in Melbourne last month, which I referred to earlier.
What do all of these treatments mean in practice? This is the practical reality. Edward Bailey, a 65-year-old Englishman, could not believe it. For 10 years all he had seen were shades of black and grey. After an operation using adult stem cells a nurse came by and he saw a flash of blue from her uniform. He went home and when he took the eye patch off he had his vision back. He observed that it is only when you lose something like sight that you realise how precious it is.

Surely these proven results by themselves would be enough for us to conclude that stem cell research on embryos is not the right path, but there is a lot more.
Umbilical cord blood cells are being used in a host of treatments, and not only by those who have had their umbilical cords stored for them, an increasingly popular practice in the United States. One of the many people who have benefited from umbilical cord blood stem cells is American Nathan Salley, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia at the age of 11 in 1997. In 1999 he was one of seven children to receive a cord blood transplant. In testimony before a congressional committee in 2001 Salley proudly declared that he was living proof that there are promising and useful alternatives to embryonic stem cell research and that embryos do not need to be destroyed to achieve medical breakthroughs.

In addition reports from the Presidential Commission on Bioethics say there are five methods undergoing development by which embryonic stem cell research may be possible without destroying embryos.

Amniotic stem cells are an even more exciting alternative. In January of this year, following the passage of the commonwealth legislation, it was announced in the United States that research had shown the potential of amniotic cells for medical research and treatment. Amniotic cells are cells taken from the fluid surrounding the foetus in the womb or from the placenta, which is normally thrown away following birth. Embryos do not need to be destroyed to obtain these amniotic cells. People do not need to be harmed and eggs do not need to be harvested.

The research was widely reported including in Newsweek on 7 January. The Newsweek article is titled ‘A new era begins’. Following the passage of the act on which this bill is based, a new era has begun. The article says that amniotic stem cells rival embryonic stem cells in their ability to multiply and transform into many different cell types. Furthermore they can be obtained harmlessly as a by-product of amniocentesis or from placentas, which as I said are normally thrown away following birth.

Amniotic stem cells are pluripotent — that is, able to transform into fully grown cells representing each of the three major kinds of tissue found in the body. The scientists were able to create in the laboratory nerve cells, liver cells, endothelial cells — which line blood vessels — and cells involved in the creation of bone, muscle and fat. Some scientists even coaxed amniotic cells into becoming structures found in the kidneys. Some of the amniotic cells functioned as they would be expected to in the human body. The liver cells secreted urea, an activity otherwise seen exclusively in their natural counterparts. Relevant to Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, the laboratory’s nerve cells secreted glutamate, a neurotransmitter which is crucial to memory and which helps to form dopamine. Tests were also done on mice with a neurodegenerative disease. These showed that the amniotic cells sought out and repopulated damaged areas of the brain.
Amniotic stem cells multiply quickly and are remarkably long lived. The laboratory’s cells divided more than 250 times. They are very tolerant to low oxygen, which makes it easier to manipulate them in the laboratory. It also means that once they are transplanted into a body they can live for quite a long time until the body sends out blood vessels to feed them. I sent a copy of this report to all members. If they read it they will see that amniotic fluid stem cells do not cause tumours, and they apparently provoke very little immune response when implanted, although why that is so is not understood.

Late in 2006 a Swiss team reported that it had temporarily been able to grow human heart valves from cells found in amniotic fluid. The Newsweek article concludes by stating:
It’s a future that’s suddenly looking brighter.
Not only is it a new era, but it is a very bright new era full of promise, promise from amniotic not embryonic stem cells.

Since the passage of the commonwealth legislation on which the current bill is based a new alternative to embryonic stem cells has been reported. This alternative does not require the destruction of human embryos. It does not jeopardise the health of women. It does not cause cancer. It does not provoke a strong rejection response. It has been proven to be feasible and to do things that only in our wildest dreams might we have hoped it could do. In short, amniotic stem cells show every promise of being vastly superior ethically and technologically to embryonic stem cells.

In view of the evidence it is reasonable to conclude that each of these alternative, ethical stem cell methods by itself — adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells and umbilical cord stem cells — exceeds the technological potential of embryonic stem cells. If they do not individually, then the evidence is overwhelming that collectively they certainly exceed the potential of embryonic stem cells.

Human cloning, on which this bill is based, has not yet been achieved. There is some doubt that it can be done, although I suspect that it is possible. According to my understanding it is normal practice, however, before research theories are carried out on humans, to demonstrate proof of concept — that is, that what is proposed can actually be done by showing that it can be done on animals, particularly apes. There has been no proof of concept with embryonic stem cells; there have been no valuable treatments or cures to have come from embryonic stem cells in animals yet. This is just one example of this particular bill not conforming to established safeguards and procedures.

I would like to add on the subject of apes that a few weeks ago I was watching television at home, flicking through the channels, when I came across a documentary on the apes of the world. The makers of the program began by asking, ‘In what way are we human beings really different from apes?’. The film crew went all around the world, and it filmed gorillas in Africa. The makers asked the question, ‘Can apes make tools?’ They showed a film of the gorillas twisting pieces of straw and grass in a certain way to make a tool for scraping out ants from ant holes and then eating the ants. They then said, ‘Obviously we are not unique in being able to produce tools, what about in terms of foresight?’

They then filmed in the Amazon a much smaller ape. They showed a monkey going to a tree which had very delicious fruit, but the fruit could not be eaten by the monkey unless it first made a tiny hole in the fruit, sucked the juice out and left the fruit for four days, after which, the monkey had learned, it was dry enough to be able to be opened and eaten. So we human beings are not unique in our ability to make tools. We are not unique in our capacity for foresight. The makers of the program asked, ‘How are we unique?’ and answered that we human beings and only we human beings have ethics. According to the makers of the program that is the one, single, solitary difference between us and other primates.

We are indeed on a slippery slope. We are not at the peak of it; we are halfway down and gathering momentum. If members do not believe that, I ask them to please just consider that in the year 2002 the commonwealth Parliament unanimously — every single member — voted to ban cloning, yet here we are only five years later and it seems we are about to authorise the practice of cloning in Victoria. The public has been led to believe that the members of this Parliament will be voting according to their consciences. Members of large parties will know if that is true or not. If that is not true, members may decide that their honour demands that they show integrity and independence in their vote. A dictionary will define honour as the ability to tell right from wrong. To me honour has always meant not exploiting others, and above all never using what is good about others against them.

All of us here, every single one of us, throughout our lives have seen people we love suffer from ailments and have desperately wished they could be cured. Every one of us here loves people who we hope might benefit from medical breakthroughs. I think a lot of us here hope that we ourselves might benefit in the future from yet to be discovered medical technologies. I do. We also probably hope for the uplifting of humanity, for relief from pain for everyone throughout the world and for an end to disease and suffering for human beings generally.

There are better ways, however, than those proposed by this bill — vastly better ethnically and much better technologically. The bill before us is technically far from good parliamentary practice. More importantly, it seeks to allow the destruction of human embryos on the false premise that this is good science. It is not good science. Happily, with respect to stem cell research good science coincides with good ethics. The bill proposes medical technology which is not only ethically repugnant but scientifically obsolete, redundant and unnecessary. In this very fast-changing world of bioethical technology, embryonic stem cell research should be considered to be not from the age of black-and-white television but from the age of the overland telegraph. It is already redundant.

To vote for this bill would be to support the destruction of cloned embryos; and, I suppose, their creation or their engineering. The evidence shows that it will also be a vote to hamper medical advances, to slow the development of therapeutic technologies, and to delay the discovery of new cures and treatments. It has been suggested that we do not profit anything at all if we sell our souls, even if we gain the whole world in exchange. How much less do we profit when we accept what we know to be profoundly wrong and get nothing in exchange?

The passage of this bill will not advance the cause of medical research; it will block it by directing resources to a field of study which is not only wrong in principle but technologically unpromising. The Faustian bargain proposed by this bill would destroy nascent human life, distract from superior avenues of research, degrade those it seeks to benefit and damage women even to the point of death — and surely the passage of this bill would also diminish our selves.

President, if the bill is passed, I would like to move that it be sent to the Legislation Committee.

for 180 peer reviewed references


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

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