Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Sydney, appeared last Friday (October 20) at the Canberra hearings of the Senate Inquiry into the Legislative Responses arising from the Lockhart Review.  Bishop Fisher appeared on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC). His appearance follows an ACBC submission to the inquiry (dated October 3) and a public statement from the Catholic Bishops of Australia on human cloning (October 11).

Vigorous defence of life and dignity of all

from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ submission

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Inquiry into this very important matter. The issues addressed by the Lockhart Committee, and some of those ignored by the Committee, are of great importance for our society. The decisions by Parliamentarians about some of the key questions will have a profound impact upon the way in which the dignity of humanity is acknowledged in Australia. Such matters are not simply machinery of government. They define the quality of civilisation that we seek in our nation…

background

The Lockhart Committee arose from requirements in the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002. Both of these Acts were passed in 2002 following considerable public and Parliamentary debate. The Acts required that a committee of review be established “as soon as possible after” 19 December 2004 and report before 19 December 2005. The Lockhart Committee was finally established in June 2005 and reported on 19 December 2005. It is understood that the delay in establishing the Committee was because a number of State Governments had strong views about the membership of the Committee. Whatever the reasons for the delay, the consequent truncated inquiry did not fully address all of the issues that should have been the subject of their Inquiry and, in particular, did not adduce evidence to support a number of important recommendations by the Committee… the Lockhart Review cannot be used to justify significant change in the current legislation.

There are numerous recommendations in the Committee’s report that are reasonable. But the major ones are unacceptable. The unacceptable recommendations relate mainly to four main issues:

• The definition of human embryo
• The creation and use of human embryos for ART research
• The creation of human embryos for stem cell research (either via IVF, cloning, hybridization or any other technique) and
• The transfer of power from the legislature to an appointed licencing committee without the legislature retaining the power to overrule the committee (except by specific legislation).

Two Bills have very recently been introduced into the Senate by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja and Senator The Hon. Kay Patterson. Both Bills seek to implement the major recommendations of the Lockhart Review, though in slightly different ways. This submission does not specifically discuss all sections of the Bills but rather seeks to address issues and recommendations by the Lockhart Review that appear to have given rise to the Bills.

issues

genetics and stem cell research

Catholics embrace genetic research in general and stem cell research in particular. Many areas of such research have the potential to provide great benefit for humanity. Many areas of stem cell research are already showing much promise for major scientific advances. But, as with all human activity, such research must be ethical. In particular, research must respect the dignity of each unique human being. Such respect is important at all stages of life, but especially at the beginning and the end of life when human beings are at their most vulnerable.

cloning

Cloning of a human in any way is abhorrent…

The Lockhart Report and the two recent Bills seek to ameliorate public unease about cloning by cloaking it with various euphemisms such as “SCNT” (somatic cell nuclear transfer) or “therapeutic” cloning, and by suggesting a false distinction between “therapeutic” and “reproductive” cloning. The fact is that all cloning is reproductive – it creates a new living organism of that species – and no cloning is therapeutic – it does nothing to help that human being and indeed is usually a prelude to its destruction. So-called “therapeutic” cloning is in fact much more unethical than so-called reproductive cloning because the intention from the beginning is a lethal one: to create a human being so that it can be killed for parts (in this case for stem cells or other useful materials).

It is claimed that so called “therapeutic” cloning has much potential to cure disease. But research using such techniques in animals has not demonstrated the claimed potential. It is therefore reasonable to ask: what evidence is there to justify cloning human beings? If, at some time in the future, evidence is produced to demonstrate benefits sufficient to justify legislative reconsideration, let the case be made for that then. But no evidence has been produced to justify cloning at this time…

In 2002, all members of Parliament voted against cloning. On 8 March 2005, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning, by which “Member States were called on to adopt all measures necessary to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life”. Australia voted in favour of this Declaration and has consistently supported all international endeavours to prohibit cloning. There is no evidence of significant change in community attitude to cloning in the past year. If cloning is to be introduced in Australia, the onus is upon those who seek such change to demonstrate that such a significant change is necessary and supported by the community.

embryo research

Professor Frank Brennan SJ in an article in The Australian (22 August 2006) noted that there are three possible positions regarding experiments on human or hybrid embryos:

1. Experimentation on any embryo not for the benefit of that embryo is wrong,

2. Experimentation on an embryo which was created with the possibility of implantation, and as a member of a group of embryos created to maximise the prospect of successful implantation of a healthy embryo, is permitted once that embryo is no longer required.

3. The creation of embryos specifically for experimentation and destruction is permitted, provided the experimentation is aimed at improving the lot of humanity.

Professor Brennan notes that, in 2002, the majority of Federal Parliament considered that the community standard was reflected by position no.2, though a significant minority of parliamentarians considered that position no.1 was a more accurate reflection of community standards. No one suggested that community standards would be support position no.3. Without offering any evidence of significant change in community attitude, the Lockhart Review and the two recent Bills propose that position no.3 should be the legislative standard.

Professor Brennan suggests that Australia now faces the question of whether it should cross a new moral Rubicon: may a scientist create new human life solely for the purpose of destructive experimentation, with no respect for that particular human life?

The Lockhart Committee proposed redefining the human embryo to move some embryos outside the protective range of Commonwealth and State legislation: "Adopting an independently developed definition of the human embryo to a slightly later stage in the fertilisation process (the first cell division) would allow much of the research described ….to occur without falling outside the scope of the RIHE Act.” (Lockhart Report, p. xv). Such arbitrary redefinition is a cynical misuse of language. If Parliament is to allow the creation and destruction of early human lives, it should not cloak what it is doing with euphemisms and linguistic gymnastics…

… To create human beings with the intention, from the beginning, of killing them in research projects is gravely unethical.

(The submission also looks at the issues of implanting human genetic material in an animal egg; creating embryos using cells and genetic material from more than two people; and binding rulings within ‘the tenor’ of the Act, before concluding...)

Of particular concern in the current debate is that some of the changes proposed, such as human cloning and the production of human embryos solely for destructive research, would, if approved by Parliament, substantially shift the balance of human rights and human dignity in Australia. It would establish a precedent of favouring one human being over another…

The Catholic Church operates in a pluralist environment here in Australia and understands that not all of her morality will be adopted by the state as law. The Church will remain, however, a vigorous defender of the life and dignity of every human being. The Church gives expression to this in Australia through its substantial contribution to health care, health education and scientific research. We join all Australians in hoping for new developments in biotechnology and medicine that will improve the health and wellbeing of Australians. We believe there are ways of achieving such results without compromising research ethics or further polarizing the Australian community; ways which protect and promote the health and wellbeing of every member of the human family...

Public hearings were scheduled for Sydney on Monday (October 23) and Melbourne on Tuesday (October 24). The committee is to report by Friday, October 27.

Catholic Health Australia Inc. Chief Executive Officer, Mr Francis Sullivan; the Executive Officer of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Life Office, Dr Brigid Vout and Anglican Diocese of Sydney Social Issues Executive, Dr Megan Best, appeared before the inquiry on Monday.

the full text of the ACBC submission

the ACBC public statement

Bishop Anthony Fisher’s opening remarks to the inquiry

Fr Frank Brennan SJ, writing in The Age, Friday, October 20 …

… Lockhart favoured the creation of an embryo for experimentation and destruction provided the embryo not be implanted and provided it not be permitted to thrive beyond 14 days. Supporters face two ethical hurdles.

First, if we are to permit the creation of SCNT embryos for destructive experimentation, why would we not also permit the creation of embryos from sperm and ovum for the same purpose? Lockhart conceded that it is "difficult to logically define a moral difference between embryos formed by fertilisation and those formed by nuclear transfer or related methods". Knowing that our lawmakers would not authorise open slather on embryo creation for destructive experimentation, Lockhart sought to draw a coherent distinction. This is the best they could do: "Embryos formed by fertilisation of eggs by sperm may have a different social or relational significance from embryos formed by nuclear transfer."

They then recommended that scientists be able to create embryos without social or relational significance for destructive experimentation. But hang on. In future, a scientist could argue: "I would like to create an embryo from ovum and sperm without social or relational significance and I would like to experiment on that embryo rather than an SCNT embryo."

Once we cross the moral contour prohibiting creation of human life only for experimentation and destruction, there is no other coherent dividing line to draw. If it is ethically acceptable to create an SCNT embryo for experimentation, why is it not equally ethical to create a naturally fertilised embryo for experimentation?

There is a difference between destroying life that already exists and creating life specifically for the purpose of experimenting on it destructively…

Now the second ethical problem. The Lockhart Committee sets a 14-day limit on embryos for experimentation. The "social or relational significance" of an embryo does not change at 14 days. What if Singapore scientists discover that an eight-week-old SCNT embryo is very useful or at least interesting? Professor Jack Martin from Melbourne University has told the Senate committee that "any research on embryos generated in this way for the study of disease would certainly require embryo development beyond 14 days"…

… Saluting those scientists committed to finding such cures ethically, let's hope our politicians will maintain appropriate restrictions and not permissive incentives simply so our scientists can keep up with their colleagues in Singapore.

 

 

 

 
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