Legalized Cloning in Australia: What are the issues?
15 December 2006
On 6 December, the members of the Australian parliament voted 82–62 to legalize ‘therapeutic’ cloning.1 This follows a much narrower vote in the Senate, where the pro-clone side won by only two votes. This overturns the parliamentary ban of 2002 which had almost universal support. The bill also allows stem cells to be extracted from the eggs of aborted late-term female babies.
We have covered many of the relevant biblical and scientific issues about cloning before (see Q&A pages on Abortion and Euthanasia and Cloning and Stem Cells), so this article will summarize the relevant areas and point to key articles. Then it will focus on some of the specific issues of this case, which also have universal application.
What was decided
‘The bill would allow scientists to create embryos through therapeutic cloning and extract their stem cells for use in medical research.’1 That is, despite the clear evidence that a human individual’s life begins at fertilization (see Antidote to abortion arguments), this law allows new human beings to be treated as commodities for research and destroyed. In fact, it goes further: a human being created as a genetic copy of another (clone) must be destroyed—so ‘therapeutic cloning’ is hardly therapeutic for the clone—because reproductive cloning, where the intent is for the clone to grow into an adult genetic copy, is still streng verboten. See First human embryo clone? What really happened, and what are the ethics involved?
But why the big push for this bill now? It is very much connected with embryonic stem cell research. To date, there is not a single cure from embryonic stem cell treatments (although plenty of tumours), which destroy new human beings. Yet the cloning supporters were seduced by the promise of miracle cures from such research.2 This parallels the American case where the late quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve begged for embryonic stem cell research that would supposedly cure him (see also US Senate passes embryonic stem cell bill; President vetoes).
Adult stem cells successes ignored
There are over 70 clinically proven cures from ‘adult’ (or somatic) stem cells, which also kill no humans in the process. Yet we hear very little in the anti-Christian MMM (Mendacious Mainstream Media) about the many successes from ethical stem cells and much hype on the so-far non-existent benefits of embryonic stem cells. (See Stem cells and Genesis for detailed documentation). Indeed, in the very cause emoted by Christopher Reeves, umbilical cord stem cells enabled a 37-year-old woman in South Korea to walk after 19 years of paralysis (see Stem Cell Therapy Answer to Uncurable Diseases).
The abortion connection
If the pro-cloners were really interested in wanting cures, then they should be supporting the adult stem cell research with proven successes. But at least for a subset of this group, the issue of cures is a smokescreen. Their motivation for their putsch to extort tax dollars for ESCR is due to its major role in dehumanizing the unborn by treating them as commodities. That way, they can turn abortion from a supposedly necessary evil that should be kept ‘safe, legal, and rare’, to be viewed by the public as a positive benefit.3,4
Tissue rejection problem and the cloning ‘solution’
But one thing the MMM can’t escape is the problem of tissue rejection. Of course, this would not be a problem with adult stem cells extracted from the patients concerned. But it would be a major issue with embryonic stem cells, because the patient’s immune system would recognize this as foreign tissue. Their proposed solution: obtain embryonic stem cells from a clone of the patient—since this tissue would be genetically identical to the patient’s, his immune system would not reject it.5
Cloning and politics
Australia’s Prime Minister, The Hon John Howard, allowed a conscience vote, which meant that there was no official party position. Indeed, there were supporters and opponents on both sides of the House and Senate.6 [Note to Australian readers: You can see how your local member of Parliament voted in Ref. 7]
This should be a lesson that Christians should not too closely identify Christianity with any particular political party any more than it should be identified with a particular culture. C.S. Lewis pointed out the danger of any ‘Christianity and…’ viewpoint as denying the sufficiency of Christ, whether Christianity and socialism, Christianity and liberation … Abraham Lincoln rightly thought that the issue is not whether God is on our side but whether we are on God’s side. Thus CMI strives to be apolitical in both theory and practice.
However, this doesn’t mean that Christians can’t assess whether some political positions or cultural values are more consistent with biblical Christianity than others. Indeed, they should judge all things by Scripture.8
One notable feature is that both the Prime Minister and the newly elected Leader of the Opposition, Mr Kevin Rudd, voted to oppose cloning. Analysis of their reasoning would be instructive, especially as both are well known to profess the Christian faith.
The Prime Minister
Mr Howard said:
I am not convinced, based on the evidence that has come forward in this debate, that the reasons why this parliament near-unanimously—or was it unanimously—voted in a particular direction some years ago. I do not think the science has shifted enough to warrant the parliament changing its view, and for that reason I am going to vote against the bill.9
This is certainly true. Indeed, if anything, science has further strengthened the reasons to vote against it, in that science has strengthened the case for life beginning at fertilization and for adult stem cell research (science can’t tell us whether something is right or wrong though). For example, for the beginning of life, a New Scientist report on an abortion task force stated:10
The task force finds that the new recombinant DNA technologies indisputably prove that the unborn child is a whole human being from the moment of fertilization, that all abortions terminate the life of a human being, and that the unborn child is a separate human patient under the care of modern medicine
But New Scientist has a long history of anti-Christianity and liberal politics; it had to obfuscate with:
The point at which life acquires personhood is not something biology can settle…
It is ironic that it is usually the pro-aborts who avoid the science and spruik forth with such airy-fairy quasi-religious concepts as when a ‘person’ begins. Yet the pro-aborts blast opposition to abortion as ‘religious’ (although it is in the sense that science can’t tell us it’s wrong to murder) when they are the ones appealing to religious concepts, while the pro-lifers point out scientific facts.
And while the majority was seduced by promises of miracle cures from cloning, all the advances in science point to cures from the ignored adult stem cell research. The few months before the vote saw advances in somatic cell treatments including:
- SCs from fatty tissue forming into smooth muscle cells—the involuntary type essential to movement of the intestine, blood vessels and urinary tract. (Clonogenic multipotent stem cells in human adipose tissue differentiate into functional smooth muscle cells)
- SCs from blood that can be directed to turn into five types of cells, including bone, blood vessel and nerve cells. (Researchers grow neural, blood vessel cells from adult stem cells)
- Heart valves have been grown from SCs extracted from amniotic fluid. (Heart valves grown from womb fluid cells)
- Heart tissue damaged by an attack has been repaired by SCs extracted from a tiny amount of heart. (Adult pig stem cells repair heart damage)
- SCs from umbilical cord blood have been grown into a small artificial liver, which should greatly help drug testing. (World’s First Artificial Human Liver Grown In Lab)
- Treatment for chronic back pain with the patients’ own mesenchymal stem cells to regenerate the cells that comprise the gel-like tissue inside the vertebral discs, the nucleus pulposus. This is far better than painkillers which treat the symptom but not the cause as this new treatment will. (One-off treatment to stop back pain — Using patients’ own stem cells)
- Epidermal neural crest stem cells found in the bulge of hair follicles already show characteristics that could lead to restoration of nerve pathways and sheaths. (Stem cells found in adult hair follicles may provide alternative to embryonic stem cells)
- SCs from bone marrow producing the insulin-producing cells which could cure diabetes. (Multipotent stromal cells from human marrow home to and promote repair of pancreatic islets and renal glomeruli in diabetic NOD/scid mice)
- Mesoangioblasts, a new type of SC from small blood vessels growing new muscle tissue, ideal for treating muscular dystrophy (Stem-cell biology: A move in the right direction (requires registration to Nature site to view article))
The Prime Minister also stated:
I am also, for another reason, going to vote against the bill — that is, I think we live in an age where we have slid too far into relativism. There must be some absolutes in our society. That is, in some senses, a religious or Christian view, but it is also an ethical view and it is a view of society that a person of no faith can hold very strongly. My own view is that to vote in favour of this bill is to embrace a relativist view of society and of the value of human life and what leads to it. …
I have decided to vote against this legislation for the reason that, in the end, you have to take a stand for some absolutes in our society. I think what we are talking about here is a moral absolute, and that is why I cannot support the legislation.9
This is precisely the main point. The decline in moral absolutes has already slid a long way down the slippery slope. One pro-life expert predicted:
We put it on the record now: with the next review in 4 years time, scientists will again be asking to create animal-human hybrid embryos, and will be asking to grow cloned embryos a little longer so they can extract more useful mature tissues. Eventually we will be taking seriously the request of Melbourne Professor Julian Savulescu to grow cloned fetuses in order to obtain their organs for transplant.2
One of Mr Howard’s own ministers, Dr Brendan Nelson, illustrated the very problem of relativism, claiming that we live:
in a climate of moral diversity—one in which we live in vast ignorance of the consequences of the decisions that we make. I will support this bill.7
Moral diversity is code for ‘some people think it’s immoral to murder while others think it’s OK.’ Another of Mr Howard’s colleagues, Teresa Gambaro, a self-described Catholic, emoted in relation to her father who suffers from Parkinson’s disease:
I can’t look him in the eyes and say I won't be supporting this bill.11
Why not? As shown, there is no proof that the bill would help him. And even if it did, would her father, assuming that he actually practiced the Catholicism his daughter preaches, want to be helped if it meant the death of another human?
However, another colleague, Sophie Mirabella, agreed with the PM, but was more direct, speaking of a ‘slippery slope’ towards scientific barbarism:
Therapeutic cloning is a step in the wrong direction, a depraved practice reflecting nothing more than the turpitudes of modern scientific egos in their race to the bottom of the ethics ladder
The PM also rightly recognized that his view is a Christian one, and sees the real problems with rejecting it. His main blind spot is the source of these moral absolutes, as we point out—how can there be absolute moral laws without an absolute moral lawgiver? The PM is right, and we don’t deny, that people of no faith can hold to moral absolutes, but they have no objective basis for them (see Bomb-building vs the biblical foundation for further explanation).
The Leader of the Opposition
Mr Rudd stated:
I find it very difficult to support a legal regime that supports the creation of a human life for the single and explicit purpose of experimentation on that human life.12
This sums it up perfectly. One of his youngest colleagues, Kate Ellis, said much the same thing, according to a report:
She said she did not see herself as a conservative, nor was she basing her opposition on religious convictions. But the creation of human life for the purpose of destroying it was something about which she was deeply uncomfortable.7
Mr Rudd was also reported as follows:
He said his principles were based on the equal worth of all humanity, the protection of the weak from the strong and the minimisation of suffering.
Indeed, these are good Christian principles.
However, he unfortunately contributed to the moral relativism that is behind the very problem he identified:
This is a debate where no side should be arguing any absolute moral position as if they have a monopoly on moral conscience.
That is a very absolute moral position in itself. Of course, if there is an absolute moral Lawgiver who has revealed his law against murder and that human life was not to be a commodity, then this makes no sense.
The Genesis Connection
As both Australian major party leaders have shown, the cloning vote should have been a clear-cut rejection. The issue should be black-and-white: human beings have intrinsic value and should not be treated as objects of exploitation. This stems from the teaching of Genesis: God created humans in His image, and He gave them dominion over the rest of His creation but not over other humans (Genesis 1:26–28). Genesis also explains the source of morality—the one who created us has the right to make the rules. It is thus no accident that when Genesis is discounted, absolute morality also disappears, and most seriously in the lowered value of human life.
References and notes
- Stem-cell bill passes parliament, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2006. Return to text
- David Van Gend, Australia human cloning vote saw ‘con science’ crush conscience, 11 December 2006 (Dr Van Gend is the spokesman for Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research). Return to text
- Richard Stith, Embryonic Stem Cell Research Funding Worse Than Abortion, 5 September 2006 (Richard Stith is a professor of law at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana). Return to text
- Wesley Smith, The Politics Of Stem Cells: The Good News You Never Hear, June 2003. Return to text
- Maureen Condic, The Basics About Stem Cells, First Things 119:30–34, January 2002 (Maureen Condic is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, working on the regeneration of adult and embryonic neurons following spinal cord injury). Return to text
- Vote on the meaning of life makes for some very odd bedfellows, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2006. Return to text
- Votes and Proceedings, Australian House of Representatives, 6 December 2006, Page 3, item No 17. Hansard 6 December 2006 p83; How the MPs voted, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2006. Return to text
- One evangelical viewpoint for the possible interest of readers is Bill Muehlenberg, Christianity and Partisan Politics, Culture Watch, Australia, 1 June 2006. Return to text
- John Howard’s speech, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2006. Return to text
- Alison Motluk, Science, politics and morality collide, New Scientist 189(2543):8–9, 18 March 2006. Return to text
- Day of strong emotion in stem cell debate, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 2006. Return to text
- Stem-cell bill passes parliament, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2006. Return to text