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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 16:01 GMT
Australia overturns cloning ban
Cloned human embryos
Australia's first laws on stem cell research were passed in 2002,
Australia's parliament has lifted a ban on cloning human embryos for stem cell research, despite opposition from the prime minister and other party leaders.

The House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 82 to 62. It was passed by the Senate last month.

It will clear the way for researchers to engage in therapeutic cloning.

Scientists hope stem cell research will lead to treatments for conditions including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as spinal cord injuries.

Members of parliament were permitted a conscience vote - meaning they were not bound by their party's policy - following heated debate.

I don't think the science has shifted enough to warrant the parliament changing its view
John Howard

Despite strong support for the bill, both Prime Minister John Howard and new Labor leader Kevin Rudd made impassioned speeches against repealing the ban.

"I think what we're talking about here is a moral absolute and that is why I cannot support the legislation," Mr Howard said.

"I don't think the science has shifted enough to warrant the parliament changing its view, and for that reason I'm going to vote against the bill."

Future treatment

Australia's first laws on stem cell research were passed in 2002, allowing scientists to extract stem cells from embryos left over from IVF programmes, but banning cell cloning.

The new legislation will allow therapeutic cloning - the splicing of skin cells with eggs to produce an embryo from which stem cells (capable of forming human tissues) can be taken.

The cloned embryos cannot be implanted in a womb and must be destroyed within 14 days.

The senator who drafted the bill, former Health Minister Kay Patterson, said the law would be introduced in six months after health and science authorities drafted guidelines for egg donation and research licences.

"This work's being done in Sweden, England, the United States, in Japan... I didn't see how we could accept any treatment derived from this in the future if we didn't allow the research here in Australia," Ms Patterson said.

She said she believed the legislation could be made more liberal and that it must be reviewed after three years.




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