Statutes Amendment (Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and Regulation of Research Involving Human Embryos) Bill
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (16:35): I indicate at the outset that I was one member who spoke about this matter at length almost six years ago, on 5 June 2003. I expressed my views at that stage, and I do not intend to repeat all that I said on that occasion. I will repeat some bits, and make some additional comments as a result of what has transpired over the past six years in this particular area.
The first point that I want to make in relation to this legislation, referring to the minister’s second reading explanation in this chamber, is that this bill does not stop embryonic stem cell research. As a number of members have highlighted, we have existing legislation from 2003. We have federal legislation which allows embryonic stem cell research using so-called surplus embryos. It is permitted and it is allowed to continue, and it is continuing as we speak. Again, my contribution in 2003 highlighted what the research at that stage told us in terms of the numbers of what they called surplus embryos that were available for research at that time. I think 70,000 was one particular estimate. I think that is certainly more than enough to allow the people concerned to continue the research in that field of endeavour for many years.
It is important for those who read these contributions to acknowledge or recognise that this is not a vote for or against stem cell research: it is a question of where the boundaries will be drawn and whether or not the boundaries ought to be further extended from those that exist already.
The second point that I want to make—referring again to the minister’s second reading explanation—is what, in practical terms, the impact of this legislation will be. I refer members to the section which the minister highlights as coverage of commonwealth and state laws.
In that explanation the minister acknowledges that in summary the commonwealth laws cover Australian government authorities, constitutional corporations and trade and commerce. The minister then goes on to indicate that all current South Australian human reproductive medicine embryo research and training activity is being conducted within either a corporation—Repromed laboratories—or a university—the University of Adelaide Medical School laboratories.
The minister said that it is thought to be unlikely that future research or training proposals will emanate from facilities that are not a university research institute or a corporation. The minister then, having acknowledged that, in essence is saying that the people undertaking research in this area, irrespective of how we vote on this legislation, will continue because federal law actually allows them to continue. Some would argue that in one respect it is essentially an academic argument in terms of the practical impact of whether or not this legislation is passed and in what form.
Clearly the strongly-held conscience view that many of us hold on this issue means that nevertheless we want to express our view and should do so. One of the issues that ought to be explored with the minister in committee is whether my reading of her second reading explanation is correct, namely, given that we already have a change to federal law, whether or not we make this change will not inhibit or prevent what is already going on under and sanctioned by federal law.
The minister goes on to say that there might be some legal uncertainty about whether our universities are constitutional corporations and therefore facilities, and then she goes on to say that there may be some doubt about research being done collaboratively through our universities. I do not profess to be an eminent legal expert like my colleague the Hon. Mr Lawson QC, but from my understanding of what the minister has said and from my understanding about this section of the commonwealth law it is clear that Repromed laboratories and the University of Adelaide will be covered by federal law and, in essence, will be able to do whatever they wish to do under federal legislation.
That is an issue members ought to pursue. It may be that we have a long and interesting debate here, but in practical terms it will come to not very much in terms of impacting Repromed or the University of Adelaide in terms of what sort of research they end up doing.
I refer to the contribution of the Hon. Mr Hunter and others in another chamber who sought to dismiss what they term to be the slippery slope argument. The Hon. Mr Hunter said:
“The other argument often conjured up is the slippery slope argument, one which is very emotive and is used to stir up images reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World. It is also completely nonsensical.”
The Hon. Mr Hunter then goes on to further explain why, in his strongly-held personal view, he believes it to be nonsensical. I was here in this chamber in 2003 voting on the legislation and, as the Hon. Mr Finnigan and others have indicated, there was in this parliament—and I think in every other state parliament and the commonwealth parliament that voted on the legislation—100 per cent agreement on the issue of the banning or prohibition of human cloning of any form or another. There were not vast majorities outvoting a small minority: my understanding is that nobody wanted to even contemplate going down that path, that is, we will only vote on embryonic stem cell research to this limit and no way in the world would we ever contemplate any form of human cloning. As the Hon. Mr Finnigan rightly pointed out, it was actually the title to the bill. That was just a short five or six years ago in this and all chambers around that time that we were told that that was the limit and that we would not go beyond it. Within that short space of time we are back with legislation completely contrary to that indication.
The second example of what some might call the slippery slope argument in this area is the indication in the legislation in relation to hybrid embryos. The Hons Mr Hood and Mr Brokenshire and even the Hon. Mr Wade raised this issue in relation to hybrid embryos. For the avid readers of Hansard, I will read what Mr Rann, on behalf of the government and the vast majority of government members, is supporting:
Hybrid embryo means:
(a) an embryo created by the fertilisation of a human egg by animal sperm; or
(b) an embryo created by the fertilisation of an animal egg by human sperm; or
(c) a human egg into which the nucleus of an animal cell has been introduced; or
(d) an animal egg into which the nucleus of a human cell has been introduced; or—
and this is the clincher—
(e) a thing—
I do not know whether I have ever seen that reference in legislation, but the Hon. Mr Lawson may be able to give previous examples. So, a hybrid embryo is:
(e) a thing declared by the regulations to be a hybrid embryo;
That is the best Mr Rann, parliamentary draftspersons and others who support this could do in terms of defining a hybrid embryo.
They are the four specific examples of combining human eggs, animal sperm or various combinations. Then, just to cover it all, in the bill Mr Rann wants us to support something which defines a hybrid embryo as a ‘thing’ declared by the regulations to be a hybrid embryo. How extraordinary for Mr Rann to ask us to support this sort of proposition in legislation. He wants us to support a hybrid embryo being defined as a ‘thing’ declared by regulations. So, it is anything that he and his government want to promulgate by way of regulation, because it is only Mr Rann and the government who can promulgate regulations: we cannot do that as individuals. If Mr Rann wants to promulgate a ‘thing’ and declare it to be a hybrid embryo—any particular variation of combinations he might contemplate or would like to support—then that thing will be a hybrid embryo for the purposes of this legislation.
I am appalled that the Premier of my state and the others who have supported him are prepared to seek the support of members of this chamber for this proposition of a hybrid embryo, but importantly that aspect, a ‘thing’, declared by the regulations to be a hybrid embryo. As other members have highlighted, at this stage we are being told that this will be used for only 24 hours, although I think in the original drafting the House of Assembly contemplated 14 days. Mr Rann’s Minister for Health, Mr Hill, said, ‘Well, whoops, we didn’t really mean that. Thank you for highlighting that’—one of the members highlighted it in the House of Assembly—’and we will tidy that up in the legislation.’ I think they are now talking maybe 24 hours, and at this stage it will be for a specific test in relation to sperms.
The Hon. Mr Hunter says that this argument about the slippery slope is nonsensical. Let me assure the Hon. Mr Hunter, who has not been in the chamber (and he is probably grateful) for as long I have, that in the short space of 5½ or six years this whole debate has moved from what we were told in 2003 was an outright prohibition on cloning to now allowing cloning in a significant way, but now also asking us to contemplate the combinations of human and animal sperms and eggs. If that had been raised in 2003 there would have been a scream.
It shocks me that, when you have the Premier of the state supporting and voting for this definition of hybrid embryos, a combination of human eggs and animal sperm and vice versa, and a definition of a ‘thing’ being a hybrid embryo, that should not be an issue of some public debate. Not one member of the media so far (and it has not been for the want of trying because the Hon. Mr Hood and the Hon. Mr Brokenshire have spoken passionately on it, as have other members) appears to be interested in this notion; and a number of members in this chamber who are supporting the legislation are indicating their support for this proposition as well.
I hope that even those members who might ultimately support the legislation will be at least prepared to support the amendments that have been floated in relation to the removal of the issue of hybrid embryos; that is, I hope that enough members in this chamber—Liberal, Labor, Independent and minor parties—will strongly enough disagree with the views of the Premier and his supporters on this issue and let us put a stop to what I would term ‘Rann’s madness’ in relation to this issue of the hybrid embryos being included in the legislation.
My well-intentioned and cautioning advice to the Hon. Mr Hunter and others who say that it is nonsensical to talk about the slippery slope is to look at the history in relation to these issues. At the moment we are being told that the ‘foot in the door’, if I can use that inelegant expression, in relation to the hybrid embryo provision is that it will be allowed for only 24 hours or so—it will be allowed only in relation to this specific test. That is now. But in three, four or five years Mr Rann and co will be coming back to us saying, ‘Look, 24 hours is not long enough; we’d like to have it for seven or 14 days. We’d like to do another range of tests. There are these wonderful potential benefits if we are able to do this further round of testing.’
Mark my words, if this legislation is unamended in that area we will see at some stage in the future inevitably the Premier—if he is still in the parliament at that time, or the member for Ramsay, whatever his title is—and others with similar views wanting to extend these provisions even further. That has been the history, and the people of South Australia ought to be warned.
The next matter I want to raise is the rapid pace of change we have seen in this area, even since the contribution I made in 2003. I have referred in part to the issue of what is being sought in this legislation. I want to refer very briefly—and other members have done it much more comprehensively—to the groundbreaking research of just two years ago in relation to induced pluripotent stem cells. I referred in my 2003 speech—and I will come back to it in a moment—to the significant advances in adult stem cell research. As members have mentioned, in the past two years there has been groundbreaking research in relation to induced pluripotent stem cells, and I refer to two quotes, the first in The New York Times of 22 November 2007 headed ‘Man who helped start stem cell war may end it’, which states:
“If the stem cell wars are indeed nearly over, no-one will savour the peace more than Dr James A. Thomson.
“Dr Thomson’s laboratory in 1988 plucked stem cells from human embryos for the first time, destroying the embryos in the process and touching off a divisive national debate.
“And on Tuesday, his laboratory was one of two that reported a new way to turn ordinary human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without ever using a human embryo.
“The fact is, Dr Thomson said in an interview, he had ethical concerns about embryonic research from the outset, even though he knew that such research offered insights into human development and the potential for powerful new treatments for disease.
“‘If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough,’ he said. ‘I thought long and hard about whether I would do it.’.
“He decided in the end to go ahead, reasoning that the work was important and that he was using embryos from fertility clinics that would have been destroyed otherwise.
“Now with the new technique, which involves adding just four genes to ordinary adult skin cells, it will not be long, he says, before the stem cell wars are a distant memory. ‘A decade from now, this will be just a funny historical footnote,’ Dr Thomson said.
“More work remains, but he is confident the path ahead is clear. ‘Isn’t it great to start a field and then to end it,’ he said.”
In and about the same time, 16 November 2007, an article on telegraph.co.uk headed ‘Dolly creator Professor Ian Wilmut shuns cloning’ states:
“The scientist who created Dolly the sheep…is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her.
“Professor Wilmut believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential…and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as ‘nuclear transfer’.
“His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning. ‘I decided a few weeks ago not to pursue nuclear transfer,’ Professor Wilmut said.
“Most of his motivation is practical but he admits the Japanese approach is also ‘easier to accept socially’.
“Professor Ian Wilmut said: ‘The fact that introduction of a small number of proteins into adult human cells could produce cells that are equivalent to embryo stem cells takes us into an entirely new era of stem cell biology. We can now envisage a time when a simple approach can be used to produce stem cells that are able to form any tissue from a small sample taken from any of us. This will have enormous implications for research and perhaps one day for therapy’.”
I use those couple of quotes, and there are thousands of others, to highlight the enormous advances since our debate in 2003, and it is due to the groundbreaking research in 2007 in a couple of separate places in the world, and that is clearly going on at an enormous rate right across the board.
To highlight the tremendous rate of change, I refer to the minister’s second reading contribution in this place, which states:
“Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells…
The use of induced Pluripotent Stems Cells (iPSCs) has not superseded embryonic stem cell research as some members in the other place have suggested.
“Although iPSCs may be a promising tool for basic research, disease modelling and drug trials, they remain an unknown quantity. IPSCs are genetically modified and the use of genetic alterations and viruses in their creation makes them less predictable and risks causing tumours.”
So, the minister is referring to one of the arguments against iPSCs, that is, the fact that viruses, or viral vectors, are used in their creation. The speech the minister gave is dated November of last year.
I will refer to a number of news stories from this month. In an item entitled ‘Researchers advance in stem cell treatments’ dated Monday 2 March on ABC News, it was reported:
“British and Canadian researchers say the ability to create stem cell treatments without using embryos is a step closer.
“The team has manipulated human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells without using viruses, making them safer for use in humans.
“The head of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, says the researchers have created something that behaves like an embryo, but is not an embryo.
“‘This technique has been refined even further and we’ve done more detailed studies,’ he said.
“‘We will find that there is no longer a benefit in recovering cells from embryos and that work will just naturally draw to a close’.”
The source was the BBC. Another report came out of Paris, again in March of this year, and I quote from a media report:
“Pioneering work by Japanese stem cell researchers two years ago has taken a major step forward, helping the quest for versatile, grow-in-a-dish transplant tissue, according to papers published on Sunday.”
Further, it states:
“But the downside of the technique for creating these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells…is that the genes are delivered by a ‘Trojan horse’ virus.
Reprogramming cells using a virus modifies their DNA in such a way that they cannot be given to patients without boosting the risk of cancer. In the new studies, published by the British-based journal Nature—”
and the reference is ‘Virus-free induction of pluripotency and subsequent excision of reprogramming factors’, an article by Kaji, Norrby, Paca, Mileikovsky, Mohseni and Woltjen, joint authors of that study published in the March edition of Nature—
“two squads of researchers from Britain and Canada recount a method by which the four genes are delivered into the cell without using a virus—and then are removed after the reprogramming is done.
“The insertion is carried out using ‘piggyBac’, a tried and tested technique in genetically modified crops in which mobile genetic sequences called transposons are slotted into the genome.
“In the iPS work, it has been tested successfully on mouse and human skin cells. Tests on the reprogrammed cell lines show they faithfully reproduce the behaviour of embryonic stem cells.
“‘I was very excited when I found stem cell-like cells in my culture dishes. Nobody, including me, thought it was really possible,’ said Keisuke Kaji from the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.”
In a sense, the minister prepared her second reading contribution in November of last year highlighting that one of the concerns about induced pluripotent stem cells was the fact that we were using viruses and they were dangerous and could cause cancers and a whole variety of other things like that; therefore, we needed to be very careful about those and we should to go back to the embryonic stem cells. Since that statement we have now had this quantum leap from researchers indicating that now it will be possible to use techniques that do not use those viral vectors with those downsides in the research that they do.
The final issue I want to raise is one that a number of my colleagues have raised. As I said in 2003, it was a difficult issue for me, and I indicated at that stage that my mind was open in relation to how I would consider legislation in the future, because the potential benefits indicated by members and others who lobby for this legislation are very attractive. Back in 2003 I made some quotes, and I will quote them again and put them on the record. During the second reading I want the minister to provide whatever factual information she has available either to accept that these statements are correct or to indicate that time has moved on and they are no longer as accurate as perhaps they were in 2003.
I refer to contributions made in 2003 in which I quoted from my federal colleagues. The Liberal Party being a broad church, I will quote from contributions from Christopher Pyne and Nick Minchin who, on this issue, had almost unanimity of view. Christopher Pyne’s contribution in the federal parliament was as follows:
“However, right now, today, as we speak, adult stem cells are being used following research to benefit the injured, the diseased and those people who are disabled. Adult stem cell research is being used right now as we speak to help humankind. The potential of it is even greater but in fact adult stem cell research is making the breakthroughs that those proponents of embryonic stem cell research claim may be possible in the future.
“Let me give you some examples. In July 2001, German doctors used stem cells taken from a patient’s own bone marrow to regenerate heart tissue damaged by heart attack, successfully improving his coronary function. American doctors have reimplanted stem cells taken from the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease, resulting in an 83 per cent improvement in the patient’s condition. The Washington Medical Centre treated 26 patients with rapidly deteriorating multiple sclerosis with their own stem cells, stabilising the condition in 20 patients, improving the condition in the other six. Israeli doctors implanted adult stem cells taken from a paraplegic woman’s blood into her spinal cord, allowing her to regain bladder control and the ability to move her own toes and legs.
“In Canada ,another paraplegic had movement in her toes and legs restored after stem cells from her immune system were implanted in her severed spinal cord. Surgeons in Taiwan have used stem cells taken from a patient’s eyes to restore vision. In the US adult stem cells have been used to treat sufferers of the sickle blood cell disease. Stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood have allowed doctors to restore the immune systems of children which were destroyed by cancer. In the UK, a 3-year old boy was recently cured of a fatal disease by the use of stem cells extracted from his sister’s placenta. American doctors have reported that adult stem cells have been used to improve the condition of 15 people with insulin dependent diabetes. Blood cells have been used to repair gangrenous limbs. Adult stem cells have been used to repair the cornea of an eye to restore sight and at Cedars-Sinai in LA adult stem cells have been found to treat Parkinson’s disease.
“The University of Minnesota has published research in the last three months that shows that adult stem cells are as versatile as embryonic stem cells, meaning that the only feature of embryonic stem cells which was regarded as unique to embryonic stem cells-being their versatility and their ability to change into many different organs of the body-has been swept away by the fact that adult stem cells have now been shown in recent research from the United States to be able to be as versatile as embryonic stem cell research without the disbenefit of being rejected by the immuno system and requiring major immunosuppressant drugs.”
I quote also from a contribution from Kevin Andrews in the federal parliament in relation to this issue:
“By contrast, I am informed that research involving adult stem cells is already producing cures. Bone marrow stem cells have been used to regenerate heart tissue. Brain stem cells have been used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Multiple sclerosis has been stabilised in patients using adult stem cells. Spinal cord damage has been repaired using blood stem cells. Adult cells have been used to restore vision. Sickle cell blood disease has been treated with adult stem cells. Placental stem cells have been used to restore immune systems destroyed by cancer, and diabetes sufferers have had their condition improved using adult stem cells. The successful use of adult stem cells goes on and on. Recently the so-called bubble boy was restored to health with gene therapy using adult stem cells.”
At that time, in 2003, having quoted Christopher Pyne’s and Kevin Andrews’ contributions, I highlighted that those members and others were indicating that adult stem cell research was at that stage actually being used to treat patients, whereas embryonic stem cells were not being used to treat patients at that stage. They were talking about the potential value at some stage in the future: that was in 2003. Let me quote from what I said in 2003:
“I return again to the Bresagen presentation to some South Australian members of parliament. Even they acknowledge that with embryonic stem cells it may take years to produce patient benefit. So, even the proponents of the legislation are acknowledging that it may take years—although the critics will say even longer—in terms of producing patient benefit.”
Finally, I quote from the contribution from Senator Minchin on this issue. He actually quotes as follows:
“On this matter, Dr David Prentice, the American expert who visited Australia earlier this year, said: ‘Embryonic stem cells have not yet produced a single clinical treatment; there are few and limited successes in animal models; and problems of immune rejection, tumour formation and genomic instability continue to be unresolved.'”
If I can summarise the contributions from that broad church of Liberal members in the federal parliament, Senator Minchin, Mr Pine and Mr Andrews, the essential point and the information at that stage given to me as a member of the upper house from BresaGen, one of the companies supporting research in this area (although I should not include BresaGen in relation to all of what I am about to say) was, in essence, that adult stem cells were been used at that time in relation to producing treatments for patients with many of these diseases but that embryonic stem cells were not, at that stage.
Given that we are 5½ years down the track, will the minister provide information to members in relation to the summaries produced in the federal parliament by members to whom I have referred in relation to embryonic stem cell research in terms of actual treatments of many of these very desirable and worthy aims and about where, in practice, that research and application is at present as opposed to the use of the examples I have given of adult stem cells, for example?
I think it is important. I know that some members are supporting this legislation because they believe that it might in some way help cure some of the diseases that have been listed here. If that is the case, this parliament deserves a factual and comprehensive update from the minister, on behalf of the government, as to where the real state of the research and application is at present in relation to embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells, as well.
I indicate that my position at this stage is that I will support the second reading to allow consideration of debate in the committee stage. I will be trenchantly opposed to the proposition of Mr Rann and other members in relation to hybrid embryos and I would be wanting to seek some amendment to those particular provisions. I reserve my position on the third reading, but at this stage it is likely I would oppose the third reading of the legislation.