Australian Cabinet Says No to Research on "Spare" Embryos

Overturns Recommendation of Parliamentary Panel

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MELBOURNE, Australia, FEB. 26, 2002 ( The federal Cabinet has decided to ban the use of so-called spare human embryos for research, the Age newspaper reported.

The decision overturns the recommendations of a broad-based parliamentary committee, which last year gave the green light for embryonic stem-cell research in Australia. The embryos to be used are considered “leftovers” from in vitro fertilization procedures.

Some contend stem-cell research is vital for finding cures for debilitating conditions such as Parkinson´s disease and diabetes.

Embryonic stem cells that have the ability to grow into any type of body tissue are currently derived from 3- to 7-day-old surplus IVF embryos. Critics, including the Catholic Church, note that the process destroys the embryonic human life.

The Cabinet decision follows strong opposition by the Australia Federation of Right to Life Associations and the decision by U.S. President George W. Bush last year to ban federal funding to American scientists who wanted to develop new stem-cell lines, the Age said.

The decision followed a submission to Cabinet by the new Minister for Aging, Kevin Andrews, a Catholic and social policy conservative. Andrews successfully led the campaign to overturn legislation in the Northern Territory to allow euthanasia in some circumstances.

Senior sources said that the position Andrews´ submitted to the Cabinet had strong support, with a majority of ministers declaring their opposition to using spare IVF human embryos for stem-cell research.

While it is unclear how the government could ban research on human embryos, the move is likely to rattle the Australian scientific community, the Age reported.

Melbourne is home to some of the leading scientists in understanding stem-cell technology. The specialty is viewed as a key element in Australia´s burgeoning biotechnology industry.

Martin Pera, of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development, said the government´s move could force Australian scientists to other nations such as Britain, where research on excess IVF embryos is permitted.

Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, are the only states that have laws regulating cloning and associated stem-cell research. Under Victoria´s Infertility Treatment Act, spare IVF embryos cannot be stored for longer than five years. However, couples can seek an extension to this rule.

Last year, a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments agreed to work toward uniform national regulations on stem-cell research and cloning by June.

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