Dear Minister: research must continue

By Melissa Trudinger
Thursday, 07 March, 2002

Australian scientists and scientific organisations are lobbying the Federal government in an effort to persuade them to continue to allow stem cell research using spare IVF embryos.

Profs Alan Trounson and Martin Pera from the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development are making arrangements for leading scientists in stem cell research to meet with government representatives in the next week to plead their case.

"A number of people in the stem cell field have been approached," Pera said.

In addition to Trounson and Pera's group, other groups have been actively lobbying against a ban.

Letters have been sent to the Prime Minister, John Howard, as well as key Federal Ministers - Brendan Nelson (Education, Science and Training), Peter McGauran (Science), Ian Macfarlane (Industry, Tourism and Resources) and Kevin Andrews (Ageing) - and well as the Chief Scientist Robin Batterham.

The writers include prominent groups that include the Australian Academy of Science (AAS), the Federation of Australian Science and Technology Societies (FASTS) and the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR).

ASMR president Prof Peter Schofield said the letter spelled out to the Ministers how a ban would affect Australian biotech companies and researchers.

"A ban or moratorium would be a retrograde step," Schofield said. He added that a ban would be inconsistent with government policy on at this point.

The ASMR letter said that "stem cell research carries significant benefits for Australia and Australians, and that these benefits should not be blocked by legislation to prevent use of existing human ES cells or the derivation of further ES cell lines from unused in vitro fertilisation (IVF) embryos."

The Australian Academy of Science wrote that "the scientific community is almost unanimous in agreeing that research on embryonic stem cells must also proceed in concert with adult stem cell research."

It urged that "Australia must not close the door on cloning techniques and research into embryonic human stem cells."

The Academy has been a key adviser to the Federal government on stem cell research, submitting papers for consideration by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

FASTS executive director Toss Gascoigne said the Prime Minister might make a decision on the issue as early as the end of this week.

"We are disappointed that the government is considering this action," said Gascoigne.

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