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One justification for  Premier Bracks’ $250,000 expenditure on his  luxury world tour earlier this year was that he had “secured a historic stem-cell agreement in the US....”  (Herald-Sun 16/7/06). Taxpayers are entitled to details of this agreement because of Bracks’  well publicized ambition  that Victoria  break the states’ agreement with  the  Federal 2002 legislation banning human cloning.  Bracks and Premier Beattie of Queensland,  who harbours similar ambitions, are out of step with other state premiers and with Labor Party policy which bans cloning.  

What’s behind this  ambition?  Researchers  know  stem cells derived from early-stage embryos are  of no therapeutic value and may never  be used in  treating  diseases.  They are difficult to control and have caused tumours.  In  contrast, adult and umbilical-cord stem cells have already been used in  treating 70 diseases.  Furthermore, stem cells with nearly all the versatility of embryonic stem cells - and with none of the ethical or tumour formation problems -  are already being derived from nasal mucosa, baby teeth, hair follicles and  umbilical cords.   

Princeton Law Professor Robert George, who served on President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, suspects  the clamour for embryonic stem cell research isn’t  about using  early embryos but exploiting more fully developed fetuses,  16 to 18 weeks old, when the stem cells would be less likely to grow out of control.  “Slate”  magazine’s  bioethicist, Will Saletan, outlined such a program in his five-part series “The Organ Factory:  The Case for Harvesting Older Human Embryos”.   

Fortunately,   the US Congress has  just  passed a Bill  that would outlaw the  grisly practice  of “fetal farming”:   the Bill makes it a crime to create, acquire or traffic in tissue derived from a human embryo created and grown specifically for tissue harvesting.  “Fetal farming” involves human embryos who are specifically implanted in a woman’s womb for the sole purpose of killing them months later for their tissue for research.  

However,  in Australia we have no such legislation.  While it may be difficult to persuade women to have embryos implanted that would later be aborted for research, perhaps tissue from “legally”  aborted fetuses is already being used.  Or perhaps Bracks who is touting the Lockhart Review recommendations, one of which supported the idea of animal-human hybrids, may support the idea of fetal farming by growing a human embryo in a pig or sheep and then harvesting it for its stem cells when it has reached the appropriate gestational age.   

The potential  for the exploitation of  vulnerable women is enormous  - the infamous Dr. Hwang, now being prosecuted in South Korea, coerced women into providing hundreds of eggs.  These eggs are obtained by ovarian hyper-stimulation, and in the US where university students have been seduced into providing eggs for monetary payments, some  have found their reproductive systems  permanently damaged. 

In Britain the North East England Stem Cell Institute can offer women undergoing infertility treatments  payment for any extra eggs produced in the process. The payment will  be a reimbursement for some  fertility treatment costs,  and  the  eggs will be used to create human embryos for the  purpose of destroying them for their  stem cells.  

While taxpayers may not begrudge Mr. Bracks his 5-star luxury hotel stays and banquets, we are entitled to know the details of his stem cell agreement.  What part of this involves embryo experiments and what part deals with adult stem cell research which is already successful, such as  that of Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal who  has treated  7 patients with spinal cord injury with their own stem cells,   or  that of Dr. Denise Faustman,  diabetes researcher from Harvard,  who has completely reversed end-stage Juvenile Diabetes in mice and has  approval to begin a human clinical trial? 

Precious cord blood  from newborns, useful in treating a range of conditions, is being discarded in Australia  because of lack of funding and storage points in hospitals.  This is where  Bracks should be spending taxpayers’ money.



BABETTE FRANCIS is co-ordinator of the Endeavour Forum, a counter- feminist, anti-abortion group



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