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Journey just begun on stem cell research

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The passing of a bill overturning a ban on therapeutic cloning in NSW allows stem cell research to start, but the journey will be “long and arduous”, a leading scientist says.

NSW parliament’s approval of the legislation was met Wednesday with disappointment by the Catholic and Anglican churches.

The bill passed the Legislative Council late Tuesday, 27 votes to 13, following a rare conscience vote in the lower and upper houses.

It mirrors legislation already passed by the commonwealth and Victorian governments.

Professor Bernie Tuch from the Diabetes Transplant Unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital said there would be no immediate breakthroughs.

The research is designed to help in finding a cure for the likes of Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and Motor neurone disease.

“The approval of the legislation has given the green light to commence the research,” Prof Tuch said.

“However, it is a long and arduous journey.”

NSW Medical Research Minister Verity Firth said it was about providing hope to the hundreds of thousands of Australians living with debilitating diseases for which there was no cure.

The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research Australia (CAMRA) said approving the legislation would prevent “scientific tourism”, where researchers are forced to move to different states to carry out their work.

“It’s the first step,” spokeswoman Joanna Knott said.

“Importantly, this means that NSW scientists will be able to compete with scientists internationally.”

But Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen said he did not believe there had been a wide enough debate on the issue.

He said the argument that stem cell research could open the door to cures for diseases did not necessarily mean it was the right thing to do.

“A well-informed, longer public debate would have been most helpful,” he said.

“We’ve set our feet on a quite significant path with huge ethical implications.

“I think we have taken a wrong turning.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said the bill was immoral.

“It legalises a number of practices which are morally abhorrent, such as the creation of embryos with three or more human parents, with an aborted foetus as the genetic mother, or with a human and an animal parent,” the spokesman said.

Australia’s Catholic leader, Cardinal George Pell attracted criticism earlier this month when he warned there would be “consequences” for Catholic members of the NSW parliament who voted in favour of the bill.

Cardinal Pell later said his comments, which will be investigated by the upper house Parliamentary Privileges Committee, were hypothetical and had been misrepresented.


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