Bill C-13 (Historical)
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
An Act respecting assisted human reproduction
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
Anne McLellan Liberal
(This bill did not become law.)
Climate Change Accountability Act
Private Members' Business
May 12th, 2008 / 11:05 a.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
There are four motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-377, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change.
The Chair does not ordinarily provide reasons for its selection of report stage motions in amendment. However, in light of the point of order raised on Thursday, May 8, 2008 by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the subsequent intervention of the hon. deputy government House leader, I would like to convey to the House the reasoning involved in considering these motions.
During its consideration of the bill, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development presented three separate reports. In the first of these reports, presented on April 14, 2008, the committee described procedural difficulties it had encountered in the course of its study of Bill C-377 and recommended some action that the House might wish to take.
On April 29, 2008, in its second report relating to this bill, the committee reported Bill C-377 with eight amendments. On the same day, the committee presented a third report. This report explained that having begun its clause by clause study on March 3, 2008, prolonged debate on clause 10 of the bill resulted in an impasse; and that as no further progress seemed possible, the committee turned to the consideration of a motion, the effect of which was to deem adopted the remaining parts of the bill and to agree that the bill be reported to the House without further debate or amendment. This motion was adopted on division by the committee.
The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh also referred to previous Speaker's rulings where motions in amendment at report stage were selected on the basis that members involved did not have the opportunity to present motions during the committee consideration stage. Specifically, he cited a ruling given on January 28, 2003, regarding Bill C-13, An Act respecting assisted human reproduction, and a ruling given on November 6, 2001, regarding Bill C-10, An Act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada.
In his intervention on Friday, May 9, 2008, the hon. deputy government House leader also reviewed the sequence of events surrounding the committee consideration of the bill and referred to the two rulings just cited. He went on to argue that, in his view, the committee's decision to report the bill back to the House prior to the May 7, 2008 deadline represents a conscious decision of the majority of the committee not to make full usage of the time remaining and thus to forego further opportunities to propose amendments at the committee stage. On this basis, he concluded that the motions at report stage should not be selected.
Four report stage motions have been submitted. These motions are identical to committee amendments which were not considered due to the impasse, as described in the committee's report and the adoption by the committee of the motion to report the bill. The motions relate to clauses of the bill which were deemed carried at the committee stage, quite clearly as a way out of the impasse.
The Chair is now faced with the matter of selection. The note accompanying S. O. 76(5) reads, in part: “The Speaker ... will normally only select motions which were not or could not be presented [in committee].”
Having carefully reviewed the sequence of events and the submissions made by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the hon. deputy government House leader, the Chair is of the opinion that we are facing very exceptional circumstances. The committee recognized that the impasse was significant and wanted to bring that situation to the attention of the House. It did so in a report which states in part:
Given the impasse, the Committee opted not to consider the remaining clauses and parts of the Bill....
Therefore, I am satisfied that these motions could not be presented during the committee consideration of the bill, and accordingly I have selected them for debate at report stage. Accordingly, Motions Nos. 1 to 4 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the Table.
I shall now propose motions numbered 1 to 4 to the House.
Oral Question Period
November 5th, 2003 / 2:40 p.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, an important vote on human cloning will be held tomorrow at the United Nations. There are 65 countries that will be supporting a resolution that would ban all forms of cloning. However, there are 23 countries, including Canada, that will back a weaker proposal that would allow therapeutic cloning.
It is strange that the government would be supporting therapeutic cloning at the United Nations, even though Bill C-13 aims to ban human cloning.
Why would the government be supporting a resolution that does not reflect its own legislation?
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 28th, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, just to clarify, there are two motions on Bill C-13. The first is a procedural motion and I believe there is consent to apply. There will be a standing vote on the second motion on third reading of the bill.
I would ask that you seek the consent of the House that those who voted on the previous motion be recorded as voting on this motion now before the House, with Liberal members voting yes.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 28th, 2003 / 6:20 p.m.
The House will now proceed with the taking of the deferred recorded division on the previous question at the third reading stage of Bill C-13.
Assisted Human Reproduction
Statements By Members
October 28th, 2003 / 2 p.m.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, for too long Canadian women and their children have waited for Parliament to pass legislation on assisted human reproduction and genetic technologies.
Bill C-13 is the result of more than a decade of careful consideration and consultation that is designed to protect the health and safety of women and the children born to them through assisted human reproduction.
This legislation is all about hope: hope for couples struggling with infertility and hope for Canadians with disabilities such as Parkinson's, MS and leukemia. And let us not forget the children born with juvenile diabetes, who would benefit from research into the use of stem cells to treat these diseases. An open letter released on October 25 by 65 leading health care experts calls on Parliament to pass Bill C-13.
As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to put in place a framework to regulate aspects of reproductive technology and to act now in the best interests of hundreds of Canadian families who have waited so long for this to happen.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 27th, 2003 / 4:20 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons to provide all hon. members with what I believe to be a summary of some of the substantive reasons why I do not support Bill C-13.
First, the bill does not ban all forms of human cloning. Dr. Ronald Worton testified before the Standing Committee on Health and said that many of the definitions are in error or problematic from a scientific perspective.
In addition, we had the opinion of Dr. Dianne Irving, formerly of the University of Georgetown in Washington, who stated that the bill mixed up medical and science definitions. She also said that Health Canada had made an amendment to a definition to add the reference to a deployed chromosome from a single living person or a previously deceased person.
The bill says that no person shall knowingly create a human clone. However, human clone is a defined term in the bill. It says that a human clone is an embryo, not someone walking around the streets. It is an embryo that contains, as a result of the manipulation of human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo, a deployed set of chromosomes obtained from a single living or deceased human being, fetus or embryo.
This is suspiciously complex--members would agree--and it begs the question, why does it not say that a human clone is simply an embryo which is genetically identical to another living or deceased human being or human embryo? That is very straightforward. Why is it so complex? Why does it have so many adjectives and conditions?
Dr. Irving identified four methods of human cloning which are not covered by the definition because of that word “single”; getting cells from a single person rather than from one or more. The United States legislation uses the phrase “one or more” because there are proven techniques which use cells from more than one person.
If we do not ban all forms and techniques of human cloning, then we really miss all of them. All they need is one.
Dr. Irving lives in the U.S. and was called as a witness two days prior to the U.S. Thanksgiving and could not appear as a witness when called. No one has ever challenged Dr. Irving's opinions that the bill does not ban all forms and techniques of human cloning for any purpose.
Despite the assertions of armchair media, Bill C-13 does not ban all forms of cloning and therefore the bill, as it stands, does not ban human cloning at all.
The United Nations is currently debating a resolution to ban all forms of human cloning for any purpose. Canada is not supporting that resolution. There is an alternative resolution sponsored by the French and the Germans to ban cloning for human reproduction purposes and to permit human cloning for research and experimentation. Not only is Canada supporting this limited ban on cloning, we are actually a co-sponsor of that resolution before the UN.
Canada, therefore, has one position at the UN and a different position in Bill C-13 which is totally unacceptable.
Alternatively, we could say that the UN position is in fact precisely the same as in Bill C-13 which is that Canada supports human cloning for research and experimentation. This is also unacceptable. Never has Health Canada said that we would support human cloning of any type and yet we have that same resolution being supported at the UN.
Based on the unrefuted testimony and opinions of Dr. Worton and Dr. Irving, it is clear that Bill C-13 would ban human cloning for reproduction but would permit human cloning for research and experimentation. This is unacceptable.
As an aside, a human clone is arguably a human being. The definition in the bill of a human clone is that it is an embryo. By logic, that means that human life begins at conception, that is, when there is an embryo. This will make for an interesting debate when the question of when human life begins is again before the House.
As I indicated, medical and scientific definitions are a problem. One of them was chimera. It has been changed from the established medical and scientific definition without disclosure of that fact. That is unacceptable.
Chimera refers to the combination of human and non-human life forms. The medical and scientific definition states that it is the implantation of human reproductive material into non-human life forms or the reverse, that is, implanting non-human reproductive material into humans.
The bill itself has a definition of chimera which is different. It refers to the implantation of non-human reproductive material into humans but does not include the reverse. As a consequence, the bill would in fact permit the implantation of human reproductive material into non-human life forms creating animal/human hybrids.
Dr. François Pothier of Laval University told a parliamentary round table that he can see animal/human hybrids being granted personhood status in the future. Can hon. members imagine an animal/human combination being granted personhood status? How bizarre; how scary. Permitting animal/human hybrids for research has never been a stated objective of the bill. I believe that this is a sleight of hand in drafting and assumes that no MPs would ever have picked up this difference when doing their homework.
The next area I wanted to comment on is the fact that there are insufficient surplus human embryos from fertility clinics to sustain meaningful research. Dr. Françoise Baylis testified that in Canada there were less than 10 surplus human embryos that would meet the research quality requirements. She concluded that there were not enough embryos available for meaningful research in Canada and last November she announced a research study to more thoroughly survey the fertility clinics in Canada.
Her application for funding was pending approval from the Canadian stem cell network which the government funded. To date, we have heard absolutely nothing on the study because it would prove that the only way to get enough embryos to sustain meaningful research is to permit human cloning for research and experimentation, as is done in the UK, which is also, incidentally, a co-sponsor of the partial ban resolution at the UN.
The UK has already killed 40,000 embryos in doing embryonic stem cell research and there is not one shred of positive evidence coming out of its research. The only way it got that many embryos is that its legislation permits it to clone human embryos and create them for research purposes, which is apparently contrary to the position of this government in Bill C-13.
The definition of human clone in Bill C-13 does not cover all forms of cloning. To allow this to proceed would violate the ethical guidelines for research on humans as laid out in the tri-council policy statement which covers all medical science and research professionals in Canada. It is also contrary to the position of the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies.
Members cannot say that there are no guidelines on cloning because there are. The only difference is that in Bill C-13 there are criminal sanctions. In the ethics of medical science and research professionals, the only sanctions would be the professional sanctions, possibly to lose status in the profession.
The next item is the fact that the bill will not improve the accessibility or safety of fertility treatment. One of the fundamental principles of the bill is that human reproductive materials are not commodities to be commercialized. The bill specifically prohibits the purchase or sale of sperm, eggs or embryos.
However, Canada has a shortage of sperm for fertility treatments and a Health Canada spokesperson testified before the health committee that today we import about 30% of our sperm from other countries, including the U.S., and some of it even comes from U.S. prisons.
By cutting off the ability to purchase sperm through imports or through for profit sperm clinics in Canada, the accessibility of fertility treatments in Canada will actually decline. If we do not have enough sperm and we have to import it today, but we cannot import it after Bill C-13 becomes law, we will not have enough sperm to provide for the demand of fertility treatments.
Health Canada has a solution. The solution is to establish an altruistic system like blood donation. However, it did not disclose this fact or explain why it thought it would be successful. Basically, it thinks people would donate out of the goodness of their hearts to help others with fertility problems.
If there are no commercial transactions permitted then how can researchers get surplus embryos from fertility clinics without some sort of compensation? Health Canada had a response to that, too; however, it said it had not figured it out yet. How do we get things going from fertility clinics into the hands of third party researchers? Its response was that it had not figured it out yet, but it would work it out and deal with it in the regulations.
Non-embryonic stem cells can in fact do anything that embryonic stem cells can do. In June 2002 Dr. Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute published verified research that non-embryonic stem cells can do anything that embryonic stem cells can do. In fact, Dr. Pothier, who I mentioned earlier from the University of Laval, said that despite the ethical and immune rejection problems of embryonic stem cells, researchers want to use them because there is no money in non-embryonic stem cells.
The only reason they want the embryonic stem cells, in my view, is the commercial benefit. Researchers get their money from private interests substantively, from biotech firms and pharmaceutical companies. They want to use the embryonic stem cells because they are subject to immune rejection problems which require lifelong immune rejection drugs. Dr. Pothier was honest with the roundtable. There is no money in non-embryonic stem cells.
The final area that I want to comment on--and it was a theme that I thought was quite appropriate because it happens far too often in this place--has to do with the notion that some people think that MPs are nobodies.
The Standing Committee on Health reviewed the draft bill and made 34 recommendations. It asked for a response from the government within 150 days and there was no response forthcoming. The fact that there was no response makes me ask, why? The answer is because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
The committee made three substantive amendments to Bill C-13 during clause by clause study. However, at report stage, the minister had her own motions to reverse all three and they passed. As a consequence, all of the work of the committee was effectively dismissed as wasted time. Why? Because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
The definition of human clone is faulty and actually permits certain forms of human cloning. Health Canada did not think anybody would pick it up in the scientific definitions. Why? Because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
Bill C-13 would change the medical definition of chimera to only prohibit the implantation of non-human life forms into humans but not the reverse. Nobody thought that MPs would catch that. Why? Because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
Either Canada has one position at the UN and a different position in Bill C-13, or in fact the position at the UN to allow cloning for research and experimentation is identical to what it is in the bill. I agreed that it is the truth. Either way, it is unacceptable.
Nobody thought that we would find out about what we were doing at the UN, that we had a different position than what was being told to Parliament. Nobody thought we would find it. Why? Because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
The bill has 28 areas in which regulations must be promulgated and details that are significantly important to the bill in order for members of Parliament to know what they are voting on. The bill has so many blanks in it because the detail will be in the regulations. This is the way we always do it. Why? Because somebody thinks that MPs are nobodies.
We are not nobodies. We should never be treated like that by anyone. We are entitled to have our questions answered and to be respected for our work. The House of Commons starts off each day with a prayer that we make good laws and wise decisions.
To conclude, let me assure all hon. members that I have spent two years doing my homework on Bill C-13 and it is my opinion that the bill is not a good bill but a fatally flawed bill.
Furthermore, since the government has closed the door on any consideration of amendments, I believe that the wisest decision is to defeat Bill C-13. We can and should do a better job on behalf of all Canadians.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 27th, 2003 / 4:05 p.m.
Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-13. In fact I am one of the few members of the health committee who is in Ottawa today. The committee is on a cross-country tour on the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to be here for this debate, as did other members, but sometimes I guess it is a question of one's priorities. As I have not spoken at third reading, I thought it important to be here.
This is an example of how a bill can go wrong. From the very beginning there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for this bill. This stems back to the royal commission on reproductive and genetic technologies about 10 years ago. Legislation concerning this subject has been before the House many times under different Parliaments and has yet to be passed.
There is a level of support for some clauses of the bill, those which pertain to reproductive technology. I do not think there is any question that there is support in the House for that. Our concerns are with some of the darker sides of the bill, which have been addressed by members today and which have to be acknowledged by the government.
It is the heavy-handedness of the government which put itself in the position of playing cat and mouse on the bill in terms of whether or not the bill will actually survive a vote on the floor of the House of Commons. There are many members on the government side not to mention on this side who are clearly upset with the direction the legislation is taking.
Many members will remember Hubert Humphrey, a famous American politician of a generation of politicians just slightly ahead of us. In fact at one time he was vice-president of the United States. He had an expression that the true measure of a government was how it cared for the elderly, the poor, the disenfranchised. I am paraphrasing, but basically he was saying that how a government looks after those people who need looking after is the true measure of a government. If that test is applied to this bill, it is a flawed piece of legislation.
It reminds me very much of the 1989 abortion bill that was on the floor of this House, Mr. Speaker, just shortly after you and I entered this place in 1988. I may be wrong, it may have been 1990, but somewhere in that timeframe we came into the House on a very contentious piece of legislation which many of us thought was flawed. We had an opportunity to vote on it.
My position always has been that I would never support any legislation that would basically destroy human life. I would only support abortion if the life of the mother was clearly endangered. Members of Parliament were under a lot of pressure to pass that legislation. Despite that pressure I stood and voted against the government on that bill and I have never regretted it.
On this bill, truly we are looking at just about the same dilemma. We do not want to deny the advancement of science which is really what the bill is founded on. It is a very wide-ranging bill. I will get into some of the banned practices later. Some members have mentioned them and maybe there is no need to go over them precisely.
It is interesting to note that nowhere in Bill C-13 is there an acknowledgement that its purpose is to stop infertility. That was supposed to be the focus of the bill. There is no mention in the bill of genetic testing of embryos and fetuses or how that would impact upon people with disabilities. There is nothing in the bill prohibiting the patenting of human genes. Therein lies the problem. The bill leaves openings big enough to drive a Mack truck through, as was mentioned by the member for Scarborough Southwest.
If we go through the minute detail of Bill C-13, the question becomes does it in fact prohibit cloning? I do not think any of us here in the House could claim to be experts on this subject, but there is no question in the minds of many experts that the bill would not stop cloning. It does not prohibit the very thing it says it would prohibit. The member pointed that out as well as he stepped through some of the details of the legislation.
Where does that leave many of us? None of us wants to be perceived as stopping the advancement of medical science. We know there is a balance between ethical concerns, moral concerns, philosophical concerns, religious concerns and so on against the advancement of medical science. We have to be sensitive to those concerns that haunt many of us.
I was stricken with cancer a number of years ago. I am probably one of the few members in the House who has had a stem cell transplant which basically translates into a bone marrow transplant. Through the advancement of medical science, individuals do not have to wait for a perfect match within their family where the risk is somewhat diminished versus the risk involved with someone outside the family. Over the last number of years stem cells can be harvested during the chemotherapy process when one becomes “cancer free” and has no cancer cells in the body. I am abbreviating much of the procedure because it is very complicated and I cannot pretend that I understand all of it.
I am here because of that advancement in medical science. My stem cells were harvested. Once I went through the bone marrow transplant, those stem cells were put back into my body thereby reducing the possibility of cancer reappearing. I am the recipient of that huge advancement in medical science in that particular area.
Some members may say that I should be the last person to object to some of the advancements that might take place because of the experimentation on the embryos. What concerns us is the ethical dilemma that we are in where these embryos, which are basically the beginning of human life, will be destroyed in the process.
Our party will have a free vote on this issue. I will be voting against it because of some of the concerns I have just outlined. Bill C-13 is flawed legislation. The government has had 10 years to get it right and it is not right yet.
I want to thank some of the government members opposite on the good work they have done on that, particularly the member for Mississauga South and others, including the member from Scarborough who just spoke.
I will conclude with that. I have appreciated the opportunity to put a few words on the record.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 27th, 2003 / 3:55 p.m.
Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the House on this very important bill. I have talked about the bill before, but unfortunately I ran out of time. Therefore, I want to make a couple of comments on a couple of specific issues.
I want to begin where the hon. member for Wild Rose left off. He was talking about definitions and what we were talking about here. I just want to remind everybody that there is a definition of the word embryo in this statute, and I will read it.
--“embryo” means a human organism during the first 56 days of its development following fertilization or creation...
That means that by the very terms of the bill, by the very words of the bill, it is confirmed that an embryo is a human being. It is right in the act, so what are we talking about?
Of course it is a very complicated bill. There are many things in it. It has been partly drafted by lawyers, partly drafted by doctors and partly drafted by bureaucrats. However, there are many important fundamental considerations that must be addressed when we are talking about the bill. One is what are we doing when we are talking about experimentation on embryos, which by definition are human? It strikes me as utterly macabre to be talking about legislating permission to experiment on humans. Ultimately, that is exactly what we are talking about.
Experimentation on humans has occurred before, much to the distress of the world community. It is a question of where in the development of the human being this experimentation would take place. Here we are trying to have a regime where it will be possible to experiment on human organisms from the time they are conceived up until a certain defined time. That to me is something that we must not rush into.
I am heartened in my resolve by a survey which was recently conducted. The survey results were released on October 21. I would like to talk to members and to Canadians about the results of that poll.
I for one am a person who does not believe that we should legislate by polls, because after all if we legislate by polls, we do not need to be here. Everybody could ask the questions by polls and the legislation would occur. However, it does give us an opportunity to find out where Canadians stand on questions. I do know that whatever government is on this side of the House at any time, it will always stand when polls are favourable and say “The polls show that our policies are favourable to Canadians”. Of course the polls are ignored when they are not favourable.
Be that as it may, this poll was conducted by Léger & Léger. It was conducted between October 6 and October 13. It has a maximum margin of error of 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The poll asked 1,500 Canadians a question. Basically they were asked if they thought it was acceptable to use human embryos for stem cell research or if they thought it would be preferable to use other sources of stem cells which did not involve loss of life or harm. The results are pretty clear. Only 21% thought it was acceptable to use embryonic stem cells, 33% said that it was not acceptable, while 37% said that it would be preferable to use other sources. What does that mean? It means that 70% of the people polled favoured ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cell research.
That is an important statistic because once people are educated to what it is we are talking about, they realize that they do not want to go down that dark road where we authorize the permission to experiment on human organisms. That is a very dangerous path which we must not follow.
There are numerous problems with this bill and one of them, which I would like to talk about, is the position of the government that says that the bill bans cloning. This comes up because there is a discussion going on right now in the United Nations. The United Nations delegates are considering whether there should be a resolution to ban cloning. One of the discussions is, should the ban apply only to reproductive cloning, or should it apply to therapeutic cloning or should it apply to all forms of cloning?
I do not know this for a fact, but it would appear as if the Canadian position at the United Nations is to favour a resolution which would ban only reproductive cloning. If that is true, it goes contrary to the stated position of the government in the House of Commons. On Monday, October 6, during question period, the Minister of Health was asked about this issue and about what was going on in the United Nations. I will quote her answer directly. While speaking about Bill C-13, she stated, “we ban all forms of human cloning”.
A supplementary question was asked and the Minister of Health answered, “Bill C-13 bans all forms of human cloning for any purpose, howsoever done”.
That is pretty darn clear. That is the same minister who, when she was minister of justice, indicated that there was no possibility there could be any interpretation of the definition of marriage other than that it was the union of one man and one woman. Wrong once, it is certainly possible to be wrong twice.
The definition in the bill of human clone states, “an embryo”, and that is a human organism:
--that, as a result of the manipulation of human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo, contains a diploid set of chromosomes obtained from a single - living or deceased - human being, foetus or embryo.
In my view this definition would cover a number of things, but would it cover everything, which is what the minister has told us it would cover in her answer. In my view, by using the word “single”, it would not cover pro-nuclei transfer. It would not cover the formation of chimeras and back breeding. It would not cover mitochondria transfer. It would not cover DNA recombinant germ line gene transfer or eugenics. All these kinds of cloning techniques have been described in several articles that we have been sent and, of course, that the committee has considered. To say categorically that all forms of human cloning have been banned, in my respectful opinion, is at best a mistake. I could go on.
It becomes a very complicated process to discuss this in medical terminology. However, suffice it to say, although I am not a doctor, I am a lawyer and I know that if definitions are not nailed down six ways to Sunday, someone will drive a Mack truck through that definition. We will see things happen that we did not anticipate and it will be too late to close the floodgates.
I urge the House to consider very seriously whether it wishes to pass this bill at this time. I am thankful for everyone's attention.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 27th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.
Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will not take my full three minutes, but there is one thing I would like to say again on Bill C-13, the assisted human reproduction act. I wonder if it might not be prudent for the government to allow for a free vote on the bill as it is a conscience bill. That is all I want to say.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
October 27th, 2003 / 1:50 p.m.
Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies act. I have my reservations about this particular bill primarily because of the cloning aspect that might be perceived here.
Bill C-13 seeks to prohibit or control reproductive technologies such as cloning and establish a new federal agency to regulate and license fertility clinics and biomedical research involving human embryos. A bill solely addressing reproductive technologies would have easily passed over a year ago. However, since the vast majority of MPs would have voted to ban human cloning, it was thought that the bill would piggyback the ethically sensitive issue of destroying human embryos and still get passed.
Having underestimated the significant public backlash, the bill became the subject of intense public scrutiny. Initially, the concern was the ethics of destroying human embryos to harvest stem cells for research, but as time passed, many other weaknesses of the bill were discovered. I know a lot of those weaknesses have been discussed here today and I would wish that people would look into them even more.
Members should consider the following weaknesses. Despite the fact that Health Canada has already corrected one error in the definition of a human clone, the bill still does not ban all known forms and techniques of human cloning. I know, through much of my political career, that definitions are very important. One must look at all the definitions that could be described in this bill.
The bill would permit the implanting of human reproductive material into non-human life forms. The biomedical definition of chimera involves the implantation of reproductive material from a human into an animal or from an animal into a human; however, the definition in the bill only refers to the latter. I have friends who have had pig valves implanted in their hearts. I know that has been a very positive thing in life and in how things carry on, so I do understand that particular part.
Experts have estimated that there are less than 10 embryos available in Canada that would meet research quality requirements. The number of surplus embryos is not expected to increase since medical technology has improved. Comparatively, the U.K. has destroyed 40,000 human embryos without any positive research results.
The conflict of interest provisions are so weak that they would allow biotech and pharmaceutical companies to be represented on the board of the agency that would approve and licence research projects.
Significant clauses of the bill have been qualified by phrases such as “as per the regulations”. There are 28 areas in which regulations must be developed and these will not be known until at least 18 months after the bill has passed. Effectively, MPs are being asked to vote on a bill without knowing the full intent. Furthermore, MPs will not be permitted to approve regulations.
The Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies and the health committee both recommend that paid surrogacy be prohibited. The bill would permit surrogates to be reimbursed for lost employment income if they get a doctor's certificate.
The bill ignores women's health issues by not establishing reasonable limits on the amount of drugs used by them or on the number of ova that can be harvested, or embryos that can be implanted.
The bill prohibits the purchase or sale of human reproductive material, but Health Canada does not explain how researchers would get embryos from for profit fertility clinics without paying compensation.
The bill does not establish uniform disclosure or informed consent practices to be used by all fertility clinics. Such disclosure would protect the interests of the infertile.
The health committee urged that the bill state what constituted necessary research. Specifically, the committee recommended that research on human embryos be permitted only if it could be demonstrated that that was no other biological material that could be used to achieve the same research objectives. The bill rejects the recommendation and delegates the decision to the federal agency.
The health committee made 30 such recommendations on the draft bill. The report received no response and most of the key recommendations are not reflected in Bill C-13.
The health committee heard from about 200 witnesses and received over 400 written submissions. As a result of that work, the committee passed three substantive amendments to the bill. At report stage, all three amendments were reversed, with the effect that the work of the health committee was virtually ignored.
I can relate to that particular situation. I have seen it happen with various other committees. I am a member of a couple of committees that have worked very diligently on various pieces of legislation. Being in the--