.- The Australian Senate passed a controversial private member's bill on therapeutic cloning on Monday despite intense lobbying by Catholic and other groups opposed to the practice.
Catholic Health Australia, for one, urged the senators to vote against the bill. In addition, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney had warned that the legislation would push Australia down a slippery slope of legalizing embryos with multiple genetic parents, as well as human-animal crosses, reported Austrialia-based Cathnews.com.
The Senate was allowed a vote of conscience and the results were very close, with 34 in favor and 32 opposed, following an extremely heated debate.
The bill, which would allow researchers to clone human embryos in order to extract their stem cells, will now go to the House of Representatives, where MPs will also undertake a conscience vote. The House is expected to end debate by Friday and vote the measure into law.
According to Cathnews.com, existing laws allow stem cells to be harvested from surplus IVF embryos, but prevent them from being cloned.
The new bill also requires that cloned embryos be destroyed within 14 days and it prohibits them from being implanted in a woman.
Last-minute amendments, proposed by the Australian Democrats, increase from 10 to 15 years the prison sentence for contravening safeguards designed to prevent abuse of embryonic cloning.
Another amendment stops the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from granting licenses for human-animal hybrid embryos.
The vote demonstrates that the Senate has essentially accepted the principle that "one human being ... (could) be used and destroyed for the therapeutic benefit of another," said Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, according to The Australian.