SCIENCE AT THE SHINE DOME canberra 4 - 6 may 2005
Symposium: Recent advances in stem cell science and therapies
Dr Jim Peacock
I am not going to attempt to summarise the whole day. I will make just a couple of comments.
What a fantastic day it has been, really a wonderful unfolding of what is happening in this field. This has been important because we have had a good sprinkling of some of the departmental and other government staff who will be concerned with the review of legislation later this year.
What came through to me most of all, in all of the talks, was the scientific honesty. There wasn’t any undue hype. There are marvellous new developments unfolding, and the prospects for clinical use are there, but they are being looked at with the most stringent reality checks. This is very important.
A critical point, as I think everyone here would agree, is that there shouldn’t be any circumstance where we will restrict basic research in this area. We need to have new knowledge in order to increase the possible ways of helping suffering people.
The other thing that came through clearly, is that the status quo our current level of knowledge is not enough. It is not acceptable for us to stay at our present knowledge level. I think Julian Savulescu’s talk put this very well indeed. We need to strive to optimise or maximise the ways to improve an individual’s quality of life.
As Bob Williamson has indicated, we need to be sure that, we have satisfactory regulatory mechanisms at each level of this research and its potential use. What does satisfactory mean? Most of all, it implies public confidence and understanding of the relative level of potential benefits and risks. This is something very difficult to achieve.
A point that came up towards the end of the symposium is that it is important to get the words and definitions clearly understood. Sometimes in an audience like this we might get a little energetic with people arguing about what is the definition of this or that, but to someone outside this field there must be no doubt as to what we are talking about. Words matter a lot. I think someone has already mentioned today that ‘therapeutic cloning’ perhaps is a term we don’t need. I subscribe to this, having heard what some people assume it means. So we need to be very careful in preparing our arguments and our presentations.
In order for sensible progress to be made we need to progress our research and technology, ethics, along with regulation and responsibility areas. There is a nexus between these different topics. Another important word is ‘votes’. How we address this particular aspect is something that we need to think about very carefully indeed. In fact, I think it may well have been the major spanner in certain situations in Australia in the past.
But I don’t think we need be too gloomy, either. Like John White, I see a big change evolution of our knowledge, for the better. The increased understanding is changing our attitudes. We have to do everything we can to make the most of today’s presentations. We will!
I invite you all to thank the speakers for treating us today and thanks to the organising committee for putting together one of the most important symposia we have had in Australia.