News Brief: Australian governments reach agreement on stem cell research

Federal and state leaders in Australia have agreed to a deal that will pave the way for nationwide guidelines on the use of human embryos in stem cell research.

Under the agreement, negotiated between Prime Minister John Howard and eight state and territory government leaders, research will be initially limited to about 60,000 frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) programs, the Associated Press reported on April 5.

Howard agreed to a three-year ban on the use of new embryos rather than the permanent ban originally proposed.

Following the three-year prohibition on the use of new embryos, the use of surplus embryos created through IVF programs after April 5, 2002, could be used, but only if governments are convinced that they can ensure the embryos were not created solely for the purpose of research.

The agreement means that Australia, home to several of the world’s leading stem-cell researchers, has more liberal guidelines for using human embryos in research than does the United States, but more restrictive than Great Britain, which allows embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.