Australia Agrees National Ban on Human Cloning

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's national and state governments agreed on Friday to uniform legislation to ban human cloning, but left the door open to human stem-cell cloning for medical research.

Prime Minister John Howard said leaders from Australia's six states and two territories had agreed during a two-hour summit meeting to make a three-state ban on human cloning to a nationwide ban.

``The states, everybody has committed themselves to having uniform legislation banning cloning. That is a major advance,'' Howard told a news conference.

But Howard said health ministers would consult widely with scientists, medical researchers and ordinary Australians before deciding on a national approach to stem-cell research, also known as therapeutic cloning.

Although it is universally accepted that cloning to create a new person is unethical, the international jury is divided on whether it is permissible to use human stem cells to replicate genetic material for scientific purposes.

Howard said it was a delicate balance. ``You have to try to strike a balance between the legitimate ethical concerns people have, particularly in relation to the destruction of embryos, and the desire to gather and harness all the benefits available from medical science of these advances,'' he added.

Australia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, which states human cloning is not permitted because it is contrary to human dignity.

But scientists have appealed to the government to follow Britain's lead and not block potentially life-saving research on reproducing human stem cells.


Stem cells are master cells that, with chemical prompting, can develop into different types such as blood, brain and bone cells and hold promise for use in treating incurable diseases, such as Parkinsons or Alzheimers.

They are derived from the cells of aborted fetuses, the blood cells taken from umbilical cords at birth and adult tissue -- which has pitted religious groups against scientists in the rights and wrongs of embryonic stem cell research.

In January, Britain became the first country to allow the use of human embryos in stem cell research.

Australian Health Minister Michael Wooldridge has said he believes embryonic stem cell research should be allowed.

``I think it's in the public's interest. It's enormously exciting. It offers the prospect of a cure for some cancers that we can't adequately treat now,'' he said earlier in the week.

``On embryonic stem cell research, when you explain to people the incredible benefits of this and people have a chance to work through the ethical issues around it, I think a majority of people would say there's a great public benefit here.''