Stem Cell fest gathers pace

This fortnight is the final sitting period before the stem cell issue is debated in the Senate in early November, and the number of people giving lectures and forums seems to be growing all the time.

I’m aware of four different seminars being held in Parliament House over the next few days. There’s Emeritus Professor of Medicine T John Martin from Melbourne Uni, Professor of Medical Genetics Bob Williamson from Melbourne Uni, Prof James Sherley from the Centre for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, and Fr Frank Brennan, the Jesuit lawyer and ethicist from the Australian Catholic Uni. There may be more I haven’t heard of.

There’s also a few different information sheets put together by the Parliamentary Library, along with plenty of other material – all available by clicking on this link.

The public forum I chaired in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago got about 50 people, which was probably fairly good for a Monday night. The email traffic has started to warm up on it too, although I do wonder if it’s something that is grabbing the attention of the majority of the population.

I wouldn’t predict the outcome of the vote just yet. A lot of the arguments being put against the legislation are basically essentially an anti-abortion position and if that’s how MPs generally approach it, it will probably pass. However, I think some of the views specifically focusing on arguments to do with cloning may engage people somewhat differently, and may make the result a bit harder to predict.

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  1. Louise:

    It seems as if you think you know what’s best for the Roman Catholic church and its members to me. I didn’t know it was your job to decide who gets excommunicated.

    You have your vote. I have mine. The bishop has his.

    Senator Patterson may vote according to her own conscience and as a representative of her constituents. That’s what most people expect from all of their politicians.

    If she wants to leave no stone unturned in order to help the sick and disabled, good on her.

    It is sometimes a mark of respect to help a person dying in agony to end their pain. Mercy killing is carried out by compassionate doctors every day.

    Fortunately the Bishop, with his narrow “black and white” thinking, doesn’t rule the world.

  2. I understand the views people are expressing here, but I would rather this didn’t become a Cathoic/Christian vs non-christian framework.

    If I don’t support some or all of this legislation, it won’t be because I’m Christian (cos I’m not), or because of a religion based argument. But this doesn’t mean that religious people don’t have a valid perspective to contribute or that the questions they raise need to be considered or taken into account.

    Fr Frank Brennan’s latest piece is a reasonable example.

    The transcripts for Friday’s hearing should be available through this link quite soon. There are more hearings in Sydney and Melbourne on Monday and Tuesday.

  3. I understand the views people are expressing here, but I would rather this didn’t become a Cathoic/Christian vs non-christian framework.

    Fair enough, Senator, and I have finished here, but I would like to point out that the whole Christian/non-Christian paradigm is one which is pervasive in our society.

    It will come up again and again, I’m afraid.

  4. It will come up again and again Louise, and that is understandable up to a point. It is to reasonable to assess the religion factor as one aspect of a debate. I just get a bit frustrated when it becomes the only prism that people see things through.

  5. Andrew:

    Thanks for the additional links.

    I was raised in a Christian church and have also attended one as an adult.

    I think Louise and I are like-minded in a lot of ways. I appreciate her opinion and her desire not to hurt anyone.

    I’ve worked in a hospital, university and research facilities and for a private medical specialist. I also volunteer in a nursing home, where things are really tough.

    When I was very young, I had the job of compiling statistics on the number of children under the age of 12 who died from leukaemia in one year, and preparing them for publication. It was horrific.

    I have counselled people out of destructive breakaway groups from mainstream religions, and studied social psychology and group dynamics, and mind control and manipulation.

    We have to live in the real world whether we like it or not.

    If abortion is made illegal, desperate women will use backyard abortionists – where many will either be rendered permanently infertile or die from haemorrhage or septicaemia from unsterilised instruments.

    Many of these issues are a catch 22. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

    If we don’t approach stem cell research from every angle, there’s less chance of a cure.

    Just in my own family, we have people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy and diabetes. I’ve had cousins die at a very young age from glomerulonephritis and leukaemia.

    In the nursing home, the list of potentially curable diseases gets much longer.

    Whether or not we are religious people, we don’t have Jesus here with us to lay on his healing hands, so we have to do the next best thing.

  6. I believe that we don’t own our own bodies but we are merely caretakers of them, they belong to God and we are obliged to treat them with the utmost respect. Our DNA maps out the deal we get, too tall, too short, blue eyes, brown eyes, red hair, blonde hair, good health, bad health, black, white, brindle. We are not allowed to interfere in the hand we have beeen dealt by causing detriment to another human being. I believe that life begins at conception which makes abortion, along with stem cell research on embryos both fundamentally wrong. I also believe that if we are to be saved, we need to save ourselves collectively, it is therefore important that I give my opinion, just as it is for Tony Abbott. Tony Abbot is a good man, a man of conviction, we can do well to listen to what he has to say. Repeating something that is wrong over and over does not make it right, it merely softens the blow in the minds of the weak; speak out against embryo research it is wrong!

  7. For the evangelical Christian right to be allowed to hold influence over this debate is to abuse human rights. Everyone has the right to believe in whatever they want. So, if the Christians win this argument using what the bible says as an example, they are forcing their personal religious views on to others, and this is wrong.
    Anyway, aborted fetuses are not yet people, but empty shells either waiting to be filled or used to improve someone’s quality of life if it has become severely impaired. Bush said that he cannot tolerate the taking of innocent human life. But what about the hundreds of innocent Iraqi people who get killed in Iraq due to the instability brought to the region due to the Iraq war? Bush is a hypocrite, and should resign in shame.

  8. Killing babies, is killing babies no matter which way you look at it. Whether it is abortion or clinical cloning – yeah sure people in their 80’s think cloning is fine, one in four people over 80 have dementia so we should listen to them? I have nine children, am not catholic, and having raised my nine children with the last one graduating last year, I now look after my two over 80’s parents full time, one with cancer and the other with dementia. Why would we want a cure for Dad’s cancer, so he can live a few years longer to get dementia like my mother. And if you are going to throw in the old chesnut about “what if one of your kids…” too late! One of them died six years ago, no-one in our family thought it was a good idea for us to kill a baby so she could possibly live.

  9. You mightn’t be interested in cures being available for your family Anne, but that doesn’t mean other people should be denied that right.

    And whatever value you may place on a 14 day old embryo, it is a simple matter of fact that it is not a baby.

  10. Anne:

    Some of the people with curable illnesses are young. Some are very young.

    Your comment that “one in four people over 80 have dementia so we should listen to them?” is an absolute insult to the 3 out of 4 elderly people who don’t have dementia – and to those that do.

    The elderly are a fund of information and life experience that more of us would do well to appreciate.

    Therapeutic cloning using animal eggs isn’t about killing babies.

    Also, if it is legal for people to throw surplus embryos away, surely it is better to put them to medical use than for them to have no value at all.


    I don’t agree that a 14 day old embryo is not a baby. It is the beginning of human life which, under ideal conditions, will develop into a human being.

    In saying this, I don’t include evacuated animal eggs acting as temporary “containers” for cloned research material.

    CB Wallace:

    I don’t agree that an aborted foetus is an empty shell waiting to be filled. It’s a dead baby, no matter how tiny.

    However, if the abortionist and mother have decided to terminate the poor little thing, this is not the fault of those who might benefit from its medical use.

    I think you’re completely correct about George Bush. He’s a total hypocrite – only interested in maintaining his access to oil.

  11. This morning on the 11.00 a.m. news on Channel 9, there were researchers working with stem cells from umbilical cords. They said they were now able to create portions of human liver.

    They said they hoped eventually to be able to provide a liver for transplant without the need of a donor. They also said it might take decades before this is possible. No reason was given.

  12. It will come up again and again Louise, and that is understandable up to a point. It is to reasonable to assess the religion factor as one aspect of a debate. I just get a bit frustrated when it becomes the only prism that people see things through.

    Just to clarify things, Senator, I have been reflecting on what you wrote here and wonder if I understand you properly.

    So, although my faith informs my morality (I don’t say that I always live up to this, however), when engaging in these kinds of debates, I don’t usually take the approach of “The Bible teaches X, therefore X.” Nor do I say, “The church teaches X, therefore X.” Obviously, when one lives in a society that is predominantly secular, this kind of argument is not *likely* to persuade others!

    I do occasionally quote a bishop or the pope, but only because I think that whatever they’re saying can be reasoned to by anyone, whether they are religious or not and I quote them in the same way that I quote Freud, Hume, Einstsin or anyone with whom I agree on any given statement. I quote people because I don’t want to pass these statements off as my own. Hence the link to bishop Fisher. He made some points that anyone could reason to.

    Do I understand you correctly, Senator, if it’s not so much that people are morally informed by their faith, but the fact that some will argue that “since their religion says X, therefore X” is what you object to?

    If so, then I understand and don’t usually employ this method myself, which just strikes me as bad rhetoric (not that I have any expertise in this).

    I only object to the notion, currently very pravalent, that because a certain politician (Tony Abbott for the obvious example) says something, we can simply discount what he says because he is “a devout Catholic.” Never mind the fact that anyone could come to the same conclusions, or that Mr Abbott himself does not argue that, “this is right/wrong because the Church says so.” cont…

  13. …cont.
    Never mind the fact that neither Tony Abbott, nor any Catholic of my acquaintance would ever refer to themselves as “devout.”

    Mr Abbott himself has said that he’s as prone to doing wrong as anyone else.

    The current fad for popping the label “devout Catholic” onto someone and thereby descrediting their views is media-driven.

    I hope that clarifies my own position and I hope I understand you properly.

  14. Coral, thankyou for your kind words. I do think we probably have a lot in common. I often find myself in agreement with the comments you make on this site.

    I have counselled people out of destructive breakaway groups from mainstream religions, and studied social psychology and group dynamics, and mind control and manipulation.

    There’s no doubt that religion (including my own) can, when it is abused, lead to very destructive things.

  15. Louise

    Your assessement sounds about right to me. It’s never a totally black and white area – cultural practices, societal and personal values, historical assumptions and religious beliefs all tend to intertwine – but people should not be attacked for having religious beliefs (or having none), or for asserting opinions and values based on their religious beliefs. However, as you say, once it becomes a matter of “religion x says y, therefor our laws should reflect y, then it becomes a problem.

    Despite being non-religious myself, I have a set of values – I try to be informed by them, as well as articulate and argue them in different contexts, and hopefully persuade people at least someway towards my point of view, but I try not to forcibly impose them on others. (I also try to test them regularly) This is a fine and in some circumstances somewhat fuzzy line. The one aspect of religious values which I find problematic in my role is if they are used in a dogmatic way – that is when people say, ‘my religion says x is true, therefore it must be true, because God said so’. I find that approach a bit hard to argue with, but then people don’t have to be religious to be dogmatic.

    It’s not Tony Abbott’s Catholicism that I’ve objected to in the stem cell debate, it’s his use of misleading language – but again he hasn’t been alone in that.

  16. I’ve finally had a chance to ask a very learned scientist who is also a very devout Christian about stem cell research.

    Due to his religious beliefs, he isn’t in favour of using human embryos, whether deliberately created for experimentation, or left over from assisted reproductive technologies.

    He seems to think the best course of action is to continue to use adult stem cells for research. He says there are plenty inside the human nose.

    He had other reasons for not wanting to use human embryos (purely scientific) which I couldn’t completely understand. He kept using the term “differentiation”.

    I asked him to tell us what he thinks on this website, but he said plenty of information is available for those who are willing to read.

    The problem I’ve found with some devout Christians is that they only read what the church tells them is relevant, instead of weighing EVERYTHING up for themselves.

    The same is often true of zealots from other groups – whether scientific, environmental, social or political.

  17. people don’t have to be religious to be dogmatic.

    Very true.

    It’s not Tony Abbott’s Catholicism that I’ve objected to in the stem cell debate, it’s his use of misleading language – but again he hasn’t been alone in that.

    Merely for clarification, I wasn’t particularly thinking of any objections *you* had to Tony Abbott’s views, just the objections generally reported in the media etc.

    I don’t know Senator, if it’s the “frankenbunny” concern people have that you are referring to when it comes to Tony Abbott’s misleading language, then I just have to say that what concerns me is the slippery slope effect. I think there are a lot of Australians for whom it is just a matter of common sense that if we legalise the formation of hybrid embryos now (which must be destroyed after 14 days), then who knows what might happen down the track?

    Again, many Australians are really worried that women in poverty will indeed be exploited in order to get their ova. I think that’s a concern based on plain old common sense frankly.

    We have seen people systematically deconstruct family and any number of traditional things and where will it stop? What will our traditions be replaced with? I’m not happy with this state of things as they are and I’m sure I don’t wish to see things worsen. Seeing embryos created merely for the purpose of experimentation is a step in the wrong direction. Progress is ok, but not if it leads us somewhere we don’t want to go.

    Many, many Australians would agree with me on all these points, regardless of religion etc.

    Just because abortion is legal and IVF is legal and it’s legal to experiment on tiny “surplus” human beings, doesn’t mean we need to take further steps down this road.

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