Human embryonic stem cells are derived from early human embryos donated by individuals or couples undergoing fertility treatment. One human embryo is destroyed in the process of making one human embryonic stem cell line. Both Australia and New Zealand allow for human embryos to be used to make human embryonic stem cell lines and have legislation that oversees this procedure. In New Zealand the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Act 2004 regulates human reproductive research and assisted reproductive technology. Similarly, the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act of 2002 oversees use and research of human embryos and gametes in Australia. A review of the Act in 2005 resulted in notable alterations, in particular to the definition of an ‘embryo’. Currently, the legislation defines a human embryo at the beginning of the first mitotic division or when the embryo divides into two cells. In New Zealand the HART Act 2004 allows for research on what they call as ‘non-viable’ human embryos but not ‘viable’ human embryos.
Once a human embryonic stem cell line exists, its further use is not regulated by this legislation. However, the use of human gametes derived from human embryonic stem cells would be governed by legislation. New Zealand has published ‘Guidelines for Using Cells from Established Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines for Research’ which provides guidelines for the ethical requirements for use of these cell lines. Australian legislation allows for the creation of human embryos solely for research purposes only if they are made using nuclear transfer technology and not following fertilisation of a human egg by a human sperm. This research can only be undertaken under license and the embryos must be destroyed before they reach 14 days in age.
National Health and Medical Research Council: Stem cells, cloning and related issues
The HART Act 2004: Concerning the use of human embryos or gametes in research
Import of human embryonic stem cell lines from overseas for research – guidelines not legislation