Australian Bishop Urges Ban On Embryonic Research

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - In a last-ditch attempt to win over Australia's prime minister before a meeting to thrash out national policy on embryonic stem cells, a senior clergyman has appealed for a ban on research he said was being justified with the same arguments used to rationalize medical experiments carried out by the Nazis.

The Anglican archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, held talks with John Howard ahead of a meeting the prime minister will hold with the leaders of Australia's six states and two territories on Friday.

In an echo of the period leading up to President Bush's decision last August restricting federal funds for research using embryos, Howard has faced considerable pressure and lobbying in recent weeks.

At least four state premiers support calls by leading Australian scientists to be allowed to use human embryos created during in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment for research. The embryos would be stripped of their stem cells before being discarded.

Many researchers hope the special cells will one day help treat serious diseases, and organizations representing sufferers of ailments like diabetes and Parkinson's say any attempt to restrict the research is immoral.

But many church leaders and pro-lifers deplore the destruction of embryos, pointing to other sources for stem cells, such as bone marrow or umbilical cords.

Jensen said the argument that the end (a possible cure) justifies the means (destroying embryos) "was exactly the argument that was used by the Nazi doctors when they operated in German death camps" during World War II.

Rather than use unwanted IVF embryos for research, he told Howard, they should be made available for adoption by infertile couples.

The meeting was a private one, but Jensen's office released a statement comprising excerpts of what he told the prime minister.

"Many people say 'well they [surplus IVF embryos] are going to die anyway and if that is to be the case we may as well use them for research.'

"In reply to this I made the point that it is one thing to allow embryos to die with due respect to their humanity and an understanding of the purpose for which they were created ... It is entirely another thing to ignore this purpose for their creation to be used at the will and disposal of researchers."

He said the IVF program should be reviewed to ensure that fewer embryos are created. Alternative uses for those that are created and not used should be considered, "such as adoption for other husbands and wives who face the childless consequences of infertility."

Jensen also voiced concern that embryos would be turned into commodities, and that "human greed leading to the desire for profit may motivate researchers and corporations in this research."

Scientists who have met with Howard to discuss the issue say they believe he had been persuaded to back the research.

With the hours ticking away until Friday's crucial meeting, lobbying by opponents has intensified. Open letters have been published in major national newspapers, signed by more than 60 religious and scientific figures opposed to experimentation using embryos.

Howard met earlier with Sydney's Catholic archbishop, George Pell, who also argues that embryonic stem cell research is morally unacceptable.

Howard's position is a difficult one. The conservative prime minister Friday faces state premiers who are all from Labor, the party which is the federal opposition.

The premier of New South Wales, Australia's most populous state and home to its largest city, Sydney, has vowed he will defy any federal ban on the research. Others could follow suit should a ban be imposed.
See earlier story:
Australia Ponders Banning Destructive Research On IVF Embryos (Feb. 28, 2002)/a

E-mail a news tip to Patrick Goodenough.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow