Leaders of the Christian Churches throughout Australia have joined together to declare their support for medical research using adult stem cells, and their complete opposition to human cloning.
A press release issued by the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Sydney, Dr George Pell and Dr Peter Jensen; together with the President of the Uniting Church of Australia, Professor James Haire; President of the Baptist Union of Australia, the Rev. Tim Costello; Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Dr. Peter McCullagh declared that "cloning of human embryos is wrong in principle".
Cloning of human embryos is one method employed to obtain embryonic stem cells - but in the process, the embryos are destroyed.
The church leaders welcomed the potential benefits of stem cell therapy to treat illnesses for which there is currently no effective treatment, but said that the decision of the Government of New South Wales to introduce its Human Reproductive Cloning and Trans-species Fertilisation Bill 2001 cuts across attempts to draft uniform Commonwealth-state legislation on this important subject.
It also contradicted the Commonwealth House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by Kevin Andrews MP, which examined the issues of human cloning and stem cell therapy, and the accompanying need for the ethical issues which surround its use to be addressed before legislation is introduced.
These five churchmen were joined by about 80 other leaders of all the main Christian Churches, including Anglicans, Catholics, Uniting Church leaders, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Jewish Rabbis, an Islamic iman, medical practitioners, politicians, leaders of pro-life organisations and others in signing a joint statement, titled, "No Human Cloning - an open letter to Australia's Federal, State and Territory Governments".
This statement declared:
"Our community must determine appropriate standards for medical research involving human subjects. We ask our political leaders to have regard for the sacredness of all human beings, of whatever level of maturity, dependency or ability. We ask them to support adult stem cell research and to reject a policy of destroying some to treat others.
"Since the production of Dolly the sheep by somatic cell nuclear transfer in 1997, sections of the scientific community have campaigned to be allowed to clone human embryos. Such embryos could then be used to obtain embryonic stem cells for destructive experimentation.
"Some also want to use 'surplus' human embryos from IVF programs for such purposes.
"Despite some inflated claims, the fact is that these IVF stem cells would not be directly useful for therapies as they would not be compatible with the recipient's tissues. But they might be used for drug testing and other experimentation."
The church and community leaders added, "We advise our governments that producing human embryos by a cloning process or any other method of non-sexual reproduction is a grave offence to human dignity.
"It produces a laboratory embryo with no parents or guardians, in fact no one concerned to protect his or her interests. It means that all such embryos would be likely to be destroyed, since the advocates of human cloning experiments acknowledge that to allow them to develop would be unsafe.
"Much worse than cloning human beings to reproduce children would be the creation or use of human embryos for the purpose of destructive experimentation.
"The supposed distinction between 'therapeutic' and 'reproductive' cloning must be exposed for the furphy it is: to produce an embryo is always 'reproductive'; to destroy an embryo is never 'therapeutic'.
"The European Parliament has declared the distinction to be a sleight of hand and the Australian Health Ethics Committee described it as lacking transparency and concealing the truth.
"So-called 'therapeutic cloning' involves the manufacture of a new race of laboratory humans with the intention, right from the beginning, to exploit and destroy them as if they were laboratory animals. This would be the worst of all possible uses of the cloning technology.
"Cloning humans would also occasion a whole range of new ethical and social dilemmas, because the process radically dissociates procreation from the loving union of a man and a woman, and opens up new possibilities for designing our progeny, controlling their genetic destiny, or exploiting them for the advantage of others.
"We urge our political leaders to support the alternative, safer and longer established medical technology of using a patient's own tissues as a source of stem cells for developing therapies, especially as they have much greater direct therapeutic potential in terms of tissue compatibility.
"We ask them to fund and encourage ethical stem cell research on placental and adult tissue.
"We urge them to ensure that there are effective nation-wide prohibitions on unethical alternatives such as the production and destruction of human embryos for experimental purposes, and the creation of a market for unethically procured embryonic stem cells."
This statement sets the stage for a challenge to the NSW Government's legislation, which has already been strongly criticised by bioethicists.