Modia Minotaur

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

A True Conscience Vote

John Howard's decision to allow a conscience vote on stem cell research is - aside from being yet another example of Howard admitting his own agenda and that of society and his party are increasingly distant - notable in that it demonstrates that this debate, much like that of global warming, is finally coming into the mainstream rather than being considered a leftie fringe issue. Many people have worked long and hard to haul it onto the agenda. Former Health Minister Kay Patterson will, in probably her last major gesture before retirement, draft a Private Members Bill on the issue, while Democrats senator Natasha Stott-Despoja is drafting a similar bill on therapeutic cloning.

Anything other than a conscience vote on this issue would have been a travesty. It is a rare sort of issue that must always lay outside the simple notion of party political belief in broad principles, because we must fundamentally rely on our own instincts and conscience to form an answer. It speaks very much to the notion I have been discussing recently that there are no right or wrong answers, only better and worse solutions. Deciding which is the better solution is fundamentally different when it is a human life that are being debated. That being said, I can't imagine a conscience vote on sending troops to war, and I would suggest that wars achieve a lot less than valuable research that can save or improve the quality of hundreds of lives.

The slow, gradual turn in favour of stem cell research makes the recent decision of NSW Premier Morris Iemma to reverse NSW's previously strongly-held support for the research doubly curious. As I've indicated, the public mood appears to be turning toward rather than away from this issue. There seemed no great electoral demand for the reversal. Former Premier Bob Carr was one of Australia's most prominent advocates of the issue, at one point bringing Christopher Reeve to Sydney to talk about the benefits of fast-tracking research to a person such as himself. It will be interesting to see whether Iemma resumes this advocacy in the light of Federal developments. It's a sad day when the Prime Minister shows up a Labor premier as retrograde.

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