A committee examining federal cloning laws has acknowledged that ‘hype’ has been a factor in the debate about the medical possibilities of embryonic stem cell research.

The Minister for Mental health and Ageing the Hon Mark Butler MP has made public the Report of the Independent Review of the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 and Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002.

In its report, the committee noted that, “progress with SCNT [somatic cell nuclear transfer – embryonic] cells has not lived up to the hope (and hype) which attended their discovery”. It further noted “the lack of progress in SCNT research in animals and humans”.

Despite these significant concessions – and in spite of the ethical complexities and scientific evidence of embryonic closing – the majority of the committee recommended that, “The provisions in the current legislation regarding SCNT should not be amended”.

Committee member Reverend Kevin McGovern disagreed:

The proposed benefits of SCNT research therefore seem not entirely convincing, sometimes rather small, and largely theoretical. On the other hand, SCNT involves the most profound of ethical concerns. It is the creation of human life which will be used in research and then destroyed. When people understand this, many people within the community are troubled by SCNT.

For all this, however, this most serious of ethical concerns has been judged less significant than the mostly theoretical benefits which might come if research into SCNT is allowed to continue. With this outcome, Reverend McGovern wonders whether the ethical concerns about SCNT research are ultimately being given anything more than lip-service.

The lack of progress with embryonic cloning, coupled with the success of ethically sound research involving adult skin (iPS – induced pluripotent stem) cells, means the case for continuing the morally fraught practice of creating human life and then destroying it, with the supposed intent of finding cures to save other lives, has been seriously diminished.

To read a blog post from Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research on the release of the committee’s report, please click here. A media report is available here.