| Rev. Flip Benham of Dallas (left) prays with his followers in front of Capitol Hill to protest against US President George W. Bush’s decision to allow limited stem cell research. (AFP)
Canberra, Dec. 5 (Reuters): Australia's parliament gave the green light today to medical research on human embryos after the upper house Senate agreed to impose strict guidelines on research and limit the stem cell lines which can be used.
The Senate passed the law in a rare conscience vote with the support of 45 legislators, while 26 opposed the controversial Bill to allow about 70,000 spare embryos created for in-vitro fertility treatment to be used for stem cell research.
The lower House of Representatives had approved the bill in September.
A vote in the Senate, which has to pass any Bill for it to become law, was delayed last month after hours of discussions when members said they needed more time to speak on the issue.
The Senate debated the Bill for about 50 hours before cutting off debate and forcing a vote which allowed some technical amendments to the government's legislation.
Embryonic stem cell research has become one of the most emotive and hotly debated issues in Australia's parliament since a state's euthanasia laws were vetoed in the mid-1990s.
Because of the controversy, party leaders allowed members in both Houses to vote by conscience rather than on party lines.
Advocates believe this research could help find cures for illnesses such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Opponents argue that it is tantamount to killing a human being since the embryo will die in the process.
The proposed Australian law is midway between the restrictive US approach, which limits stem cell research to cell lines from embryos that have already been destroyed, and more liberal British laws that allow embryos to be created for research.
Opponents succeeded in amending the Bill slightly to tighten up licensing, reporting and research on stem cells.
Proposed amendments banning the export of stem cell lines, the use of stem cells and embryos in drug testing and the labelling of drugs or cosmetics made after being tested on embryonic stem cells all failed.
Scientists, biotechnology firms and researchers had threatened to take their work and investment offshore if the Bill failed.
Thousands of firefighters and home owners armed with garden hoses battled bushfires around Sydney today as helicopters flew blindly in the black smoke dumping tonnes of water on flames.
Strong winds bringing dry air from the outback fanned the fires for a second day, threatening to realise fears that this year's drought, the worst in 100 years, will see the island continent of 20 million suffer its worst bushfire season.