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Babette Francis once heard a skit on the Cinderella story in which a bumbling fairy godmother's coach turned into a pumpkin well before midnight. She was reminded of this by Senator Kay Patterson's recent so-called "clone and kill" Bill, the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006.

Pumpkins have their uses, but this Bill is like Patterson's Curse, the pretty weed introduced by an early settler (no relation to the Victorian Liberal senator, so far as I know) which proved to be a bane to farmers.

In 2002, Senator Patterson spoke eloquently on the evils of human cloning, but in her 2006 Bill she has done a back-flip double somersault in pike position worthy of an Olympic medal by repudiating her earlier speech and recommending human cloning.

These clones will not be allowed to develop into babies (hence the somewhat ambiguous title of the Bill), but they will be killed as their stem cells are extracted for research.

Senator Patterson has ignored what James Sherley, associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told her: that stem cells derived from cloned embryos have defects in their genetic program which render them ineffective and potentially dangerous, and that these cells form tumours when transplanted into adult tissues.

Former Chief Scientist and Australian of the Year 2000, Sir Gustav Nossal, claims human embryonic stem-cells have been therapeutically useful in five different animal models, but does not mention the October 23, 2006 report from the University of Rochester, New York, where the researchers found human embryonic stem-cells injected into rats' brains started to form tumours.

Dr David van Gend, national director of Do No Harm! Australians for Ethical Stem-Cell Research, describes the recent Senate vote in favour of cloning as a victory for organised lying:

"Brutal legislation, that permits the creation of human young as mere raw material for research, has been achieved by systematic scientific deception. And, even on the day of the vote, science lobbyists were deceiving the public by denying the most brutal aspect of this Bill - that it lets aborted baby girls be used as 'mothers' of cloned embryos.

"Some scientists have shown they are prepared to do 'whatever it takes' to get liberal legislation on cloning:

• Fairy tales about cloning being used to treat Alzheimer's or diabetes in humans - when, in truth, all it does in animals is cause tumours and genetic damage.

• Continual denigration of the magnificent and ethical field of adult stem-cell science, in reality so superior to cloning for both research and treatment.

• Hiding from the public the fact that embryonic stem-cells remain entirely unusable in humans, due to tumour formation, while adult stem-cells are being safely used in over 1,200 human trials.

• Vicious personal attacks on adult stem-cell scientists who dare point out the true technical limitations of cloning.

"We have witnessed the degraded behaviour of scientists who will compromise their professional integrity for a big new bucket of public money.

"In contrast, we have seen honourable scientists, such as Professors T.J. Martin, Alan Mackay-Sim and James Sherley, challenging their colleagues to tell the scientific truth and maintain ethical standards for human research. Their efforts, in the face of organised lying by their colleagues, have been an inspiration.

"Our MPs must be more ruthlessly sceptical of these scientific lobbyists if they are not to be taken for fools like their 34 Senate colleagues."

Adult stem-cells have now successfully grown liver and breast tissues, and have been used to cure blindness in mice. Other cures and treatments will be delayed if public money and scientific effort are wasted on embryonic cells.

Senator Patterson's "solution" for overcoming the problem of obtaining the thousands of human eggs for cloning has been to permit the manufacturing of animal-human hybrids using rabbit eggs.

These hybrids, or chimeras, have been dubbed "Frankenbunnies" in countries where this process is allowed. In the United Kingdom, British scientists want to create a hybrid that is part human and part cow. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, never imagined such marvels.

Senator Andrew Bartlett did move a successful amendment to disallow animal-human hybrids, but it is only a matter of time until our ethically-challenged scientists demand this ban be overturned as they confront the shortage of women's eggs.

The recent Senate debate on cloning reminded me of that advertisement where a historically-challenged grandfather explains to his grandson why the Great Wall of China was built: "To keep the rabbits out - too many rabbits in China". We will have too many Frankenbunnies in Australia if Senator Patterson's cloning Bill is not defeated in the House of Representatives.

- Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.





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