By Hilary White

CANBERRA, October 23, 2006 ( – Anthony Fisher, auxiliary bishop of the Australian diocese of Sydney, told a Senate committee on Friday that Catholic hospitals in Australia would not be involved in stem cell research using embryos, including cloning, even if those experiments were to produce cures for serious diseases.

“I think if in fact what the cures involved was using parts taken from very early human beings that had been killed to get those cells, and then lines grown from them for that purpose, we’d have to say that you couldn’t morally cooperate in that activity,” Bishop Fisher told the committee.

Bishop Fisher said that the Church was unlikely to drop its opposition to the creation of human clones for research.

The Associated press quotes Fisher, “You couldn’t derive benefit from it personally. Certainly any direct advantage gained for a particular patient, I’d have to say, would be excluded because of the way it was gained.”

The Australian Senate is hearing submissions on a private members’ bill that would lift the ban on creation of cloned embryonic human beings for experimental research. Prime Minister John Howard has granted Parliament a conscience vote on the issue and the House voted to retain the ban in August.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said that Australia must not pursue human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, calling such a move “a bridge too far”. The Lockhart report review of stem cell research, however, recommended overturning the ban on therapeutic cloning.

Catholic Health Australia chief Francis Sullivan released a statement ahead of his appearance at the Senate committee that said a decision to overturn the cloning ban is likely to set a dangerous precedent that human life is “expendable”.

“The Senate will be taking a moral position on the status of the human embryo which effectively undermines the principle of protecting innocent human life”.

Sullivan’s comments to the Senate will say, “The Senate will be enshrining in law a utilitarian evaluation of the human embryo. That is, the embryo is expendable. The embryo is not as valuable as futuristic research.”

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