International Papers

Cell, Mate

Australia green-lights stem-cell research.

Science and ethics combined uneasily in Australian newspapers this week as Prime Minister John Howard green-lighted stem-cell research. Announcing the decision yesterday, Howard said, “I have been personally unable to find a huge moral distinction between allowing the human embryo to succumb as a result of its exposure to room temperature, and ending it through research.”

The PM emphasized that only existing embryos will be available for that research and said the decision strikes “the right balance between ethical considerations and relieving human suffering.” The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the bill Howard supports requires that “the consent of the donors should be obtained in every case where the human embryo is to be used for research purposes.”

One  member of parliament, Tasmanian Sen. Guy Barnett, said he may oppose the bill with a legislative countermeasure, even though members of his own family suffer from medical conditions that could potentially be helped by the research. Barnett tells the Age of Melbourne that he fears “that approving the research, although confined to IVF embryos that would be destroyed anyway, was the thin end of the wedge.”

The measure is not out of the woods yet; the Age reported that “Senator Barnett said there was a ‘good number’ of like-minded federal politicians who crossed party lines” to oppose it.

Meanwhile, in France, scientists are proposing that the government import enough embryonic cells to finish important genetic research that has been authorized by the government only until 2003, according to Le Monde. A group of French geneticists says they need to import the cell materials in order to keep up with international research teams.

While the possible benefits of stem-cell research are still clouded by religious and ethical issues, one gene therapy brought about a triumphant victory for a 2-year-old Welsh boy this week. Rhys Evans, who was born without an immune system, received genetic modification that apparently cured him of his rare disease, according to the Guardian, Sun, and Mirror. Kept alive on a ventilator, he was sure to succumb to pneumonia; but following the gene treatment, “his progress seems nothing short of a miracle,” said his relieved mother.