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Hot topic dished at LIV lunch

Briefs

Cite as: (2007) 81(6) LIJ, p. 17


The same day the Victorian Parliament began debating the Infertility Treatment Amendment Bill, Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) members were treated to an in-depth look at the work that had gone into forming the legislation.

Melbourne University professor of law in the faculties of law and medicine and chair of the University’s board of undergraduate studies Professor Loane Skene was the guest speaker at the LIV’s Pitcher Partners’ President’s Luncheon on 17 April.

And while in Parliament there was furious debate about stem cell research, the 80 luncheon guests listened attentively as Professor Skene explained how the Legislation Review Committee (Lockhart Committee) formed its recommendations to the federal government on human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

The Committee said that the law should be amended to allow embryos to be created for research by the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT, the “Dolly technique”), provided that those embryos were not implanted in a woman and were destroyed within 14 days.

Professor Skene said the Committee had undertaken extensive consultation and had published an issues paper to explain the science of stem cell technology in terms that could be understood by a wide audience.

The Committee held public hearings, private meetings and received more than 1000 written submissions, with all the submissions and presentations being carefully considered.

Professor Skene told the luncheon that the recommendations from the Committee were unanimous but this had come from listening to the presentations and carefully considering the submissions, not from having made up their minds beforehand.

She said one aspect on which she personally changed her mind was in deciding that “sperm-egg” embryos should not be created for research because embryos formed to achieve a pregnancy are viewed differently from SCNT embryos by the “parents” of those embryos.

She likened SCNT embryos to specially grown cells for a skin graft.

The Committee’s recommendations were almost entirely adopted on a “conscience vote” in the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Act, passed by federal Parliament in late 2006.

The Victorian Infertility Treatment Amendment Bill, which is now awaiting assent, is mirror legislation to the federal government Act.

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