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Australia lifts ban on stem cell research

Lawmakers rejected the moral views of their political leaders Wednesday and lifted a four-year ban on cloning human embryos for stem cell research - legislation that could put Australia at the forefront of research into diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's.

Prime Minister John Howard, his two deputies and the leader of the major opposition party all argued the sanctity of human life must take precedence over potential cures for conditions that also include Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and arthritis.

But lawmakers in the House of Representatives took advantage of a rare non-party-line vote Wednesday to side with medical researchers, voting 82-62 to scrap the ban. The bill was passed by the Senate last month by a razor-edge 34-32.

The senator who drafted the bill, former Health Minister Kay Patterson, said it will slow a brain drain of scientists and enable Australian medical researchers to work with peers in countries where therapeutic cloning is allowed, including the United States, Britain and Singapore.

The Bush administration has banned federal funding for research on stem cell lines developed after August 2001, but cloning embryos for research is being attempted in the United States with private money.

Fast facts

Stem cell research

Australia now allows therapeutic cloning, the splicing of DNA from skin cells into eggs to produce stem cells, which are capable of forming all the tissues of the human body.