Animals Good, Women Bad

The clone and kill bill to be debated in the House of Reps next week is a strange bit of legislation. While it has some restrictions on how animals are to be treated, it seems to allow an anything-goes approach to women.

Dr Susan Hawthorne of Victoria University, Melbourne, makes just such observations in “The chimera and the discounted women” ( , 24 November 2006). As is known, the Patterson cloning bill passed by one vote in the Senate, and may well pass in the House on Monday.

Dr Hawthorn rightly asks why amendments involving human/animal hybrids were included, but no such concerns were raised about how women would fare in all this. “The prohibition of the chimera, a cross-species hybrid, got the Bill over the line for the biotech industry. In contrast, the potential exploitation of women as egg producers didn’t warrant any protective amendment, not even the mandate to closely monitor their health.”

But the chimera restriction is not even all that helpful: “Andrew Bartlett’s amendment prohibiting cloned animal hybrids means that it will be illegal to put the nucleus of a human cell into an animal egg and create an embryo. Thus only human females (women) are permitted to be egg donors. The irony is that the prohibition is incomplete: The sub-clause (f) of the same excised Subsection 20(1) that refers to ‘creation of embryos by the fertilisation of an animal egg by a human sperm’ was left in. So hybrids can still be made. The chimera survives and neither Senator Bartlett nor anyone else seems to have noticed.”

Women, however, are the big losers in the legislation. “In the senate debate, the pro-cloning side erected some marvellous justifications. The economic rationalists said embryonic stem cell research will be good for the economy; that it would bring expert scientists and money into Australia. What is it about the economics of science that makes it more important than the integrity and health of women’s bodies?”

She continues, “The proponents of biotechnology on the basis of choice claimed embryonic stem cell research would lead to cures for incurable diseases. These claims are at best wishful thinking and at worst, misleading. Despite all the hype that Australia risks being left behind, no one in the world has so far been able to create stem cells from a cloned embryo. But the emotional momentum is such that women will be encouraged to step forward to donate parts of their bodies willingly to science under the auspices of compassion and altruism.”

Indeed, women become mere commodities in this brave new world: “But what of bodily integrity? What of the critical stance many of us take on interfering with plants to create GM foods? There is room here for a more ethical approach, one that takes account of the suffering and potential long-term health risks to women whose ovaries are hyperstimulated in the name of science. If we care about plants, water and environmental degradation, why would we ignore the use of women as commodities for science?”

Possible cures are tied to the exploitation of women: “The promise of developing cures is inextricably linked to the abuse of women as a resource for biotechnology, as raw material for just another big business opportunity, big science, big men and apparently big-hearted women who co-operate.”

Indeed, financial interests are a major motivation here, but a concealed motivation: “But no one mentions the profit that inspires these proponents. No one mentions the biotech corporations who stand to make a healthy return on their investment from desperate people who would try anything in the hope to alleviate the suffering of relatives and friends.”

Dr Hawthorne concludes, “It can only be hoped that social justice and ethics prevail in Federal Parliament next week and that the chimera, this wild fancy of a cure-all, remains unconceived.”

Next Monday will be a weighty day indeed. Which will triumph? Ethical science or Big Biotech?

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