Introduced last month by Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, the legislation would allow Victorian scientists to clone human embryos for medical research through somatic cell nuclear transfer, commonly known as therapeutic cloning.
Scientists would be able to take the nucleus from an adult skin cell, insert it in an unfertilized egg and then use the resultant embryonic stem cells for medical purposes.
Premier Steve Bracks, a Catholic, who supports the legislation, called a conscience vote on the bill. Legislators voted in favor, 58 to 25.
Parties were divided over the issue, with 15 legislators breaking ranks with their party colleagues and crossing the floor to vote with the government in favor of the bill, reported The Age.
The vote, which came after an emotion-charged debate that lasted close to eight hours across two sitting days, pushed the bill to the committee stage.
Last week, Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart had urged all politicians, especially those expressing Christian beliefs, to reject the bill. According to The Age, the archbishop wrote a personal letter to Bracks, asking that the legislation be reconsidered.
Archbishop Hart said it was wrong to believe cloned human embryos had no intrinsic value, arguing they "share the same human life that we all do."
The insight of the biblical and Christian tradition was not changed simply because of scientific claims of the potential benefits of therapeutic cloning, he reportedly said.
"To allow embryos to be deliberately created and then destroyed for scientific research is always unethical and would be an assault on the dignity of the human person at its most vulnerable," he was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd voted against similar federal legislation, which passed in December.
.- Despite calls from Catholic and Anglican bishops for Victoria State legislators to defeat a cloning bill, legislators in the lower house voted on Wednesday in favor of the draft legislation.