Debates of May 27th, 2002
House of Commons Hansard #192 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was stem.
- Business of the House
- Child Predator Act
- Assisted Human Reproduction Act
- Legal Aid
- Memorial Cup
- World Partnership Walk
- Jesse Rosensweet
- Hepatitis Awareness Month
- Member for York Centre
- Féria du vélo de Montréal
- Government Contracts
- Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
- Member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell
- National Defence
- Ottawa Jewish Community
- Cabinet Shuffle
- Ottawa Jewish Community
- Kenner Collegiate
- Liberal Party of Canada
- UV Index
- Government Contracts
- Research and Development
- Government Contracts
- Softwood Lumber
- Government Contracts
- Boat Towing
- La soirée du hockey
- Ethics Counsellor
- Ferry Services
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
- Employment Insurance
- Government Response to Petitions
- Committees of the House
- Business of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Standing Orders
- Request for Emergency Debate
- Assisted Human Reproduction Act
- Public Safety Act, 2002
Child Predator Act
Private Members' Business
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Before we proceed to orders of the day we understand that changes have taken place in the cabinet. The House should know why those cabinet changes took place before it proceeds to consider the business the government wishes to place before the House.
I would ask that the government table the letter of resignation from the Minister of National Defence and further, that the House itself be informed by the government of the reasons for these changes. The Prime Minister, whether he likes it or not, is accountable to the House and owes the House some explanation.
Could the Speaker confirm that it would be in order for the Prime Minister to make a full ministerial statement in the House and that the government would be within its reason to table that letter of resignation?
Child Predator Act
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
I must inform the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough that was not a point of order.
Does the assistant government whip want to state the reasons for the cabinet shuffle? I understand the answer is no.
The House resumed from May 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
May 27th, 2002 / noon
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important debate. Bill C-56 is a piece of legislation that has been long in coming. Canadians have been calling for legislation since 1993 when the royal commission on new reproductive technologies reported.
This issue has a long history. In July 1995 minister Marleau introduced a voluntary moratorium on some reproductive technologies. In June 1996 the government introduced a bill prohibiting 13 uses of assisted reproductive and genetic technologies but allowed the bill to die on the order paper at the time of the 1997 election. Draft legislation was thereafter submitted to the health committee on May 3, 2001 for consideration. The committee presented its report entitled “Building Families” in December 2001.
In March 2002 the Canadian Institutes for Health Research pre-empted any legislation by parliament by publishing rules to approve funding for experiments on human embryos and aborted fetuses. Funding was put off for one year following opposition protest of that particular move.
I wish to make it clear that the Canadian Alliance strongly believes in the improvement of human health. We support research wherever it is compatible with the dignity and value of human life. We will work to protect the value of human life and the best interests of children born of assisted reproductive technologies as well as ensuring that prospective parents have access to the best assisted reproductive technologies that science can ethically offer.
On such an important issue members of all parties should have the right to a free vote on the bill. It is important that we hear from Canadians on this issue and then, when in possession of all the facts, be able to vote free from party discipline on this important subject.
There are parts of the bill that I am pleased to see. I support the bill in regard to reproductive technology and the legislative framework it would create for this important subject. I do not wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater because there are parts of the bill which I cannot support.
I hope the committee will truly flex its political muscles and allows amendments to be passed so that we might at the end of the day be able to support the legislation.
What concerns me about the legislation? I believe we run the serious risk that donor insemination creates divided families. Recently Maclean's magazine published a six-page article entitled, “Who's my birth father?” In it the journalist states that with the exception of a few instances, “approximately 14,000 Canadians born by donor insemination in the past two decades are locked in a system that protects the donor anonymity.” The article stated that, “until recently, physicians even encouraged parents not to tell their children how they were conceived.” The remainder of the article contained numerous stories of children born by donor insemination who were demanding to know who their biological fathers were. In Canada over one million families are single parent homes and approximately 900,000 of these parents are mothers.
Too many children in Canada have little access to their natural fathers and I fear that the bill will only cause these numbers to increase and not serve in the best interest of children born of assisted human reproduction. Children born through donor insemination must have access to information about their biological fathers.
Another area of concern is the issue of stem cell research. There have been considerable advances in this area of medical technology. It proves to be a promising field that could lead to revolutionary discoveries. However, in this piece of legislation Canadians are only getting half the story. Legislation based on only half the story may lead to many sufferers of terminal diseases never seeing a cure.
This is the case when we rely too heavily on embryonic stem cells as the cure all for these debilitating diseases. Simply put, there are other sources of stem cells other than embryos. For the information of the House today, I have reviewed some of the available research on this issue. I have learned that scientists and doctors across the country are discovering stem cells taken from sources such as placentas, umbilical cords, bone marrow and even human fat are equally as capable as those collected from embryos.
For instance, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta have recently isolated and extracted healthy islet cells from an adult pancreas. These are cells that produce insulin. They have successfully transplanted the cells into the pancreas of 25 people suffering from juvenile diabetes.
There are other examples. For instance, a researcher from McGill University also discovered that stem cells collected from adult skin was capable of growing into brain cells and other tissue.
Then again, researchers found evidence that stem cells circulating in the bloodstream could grow new tissue in the liver, gut and skin. Adult stem cells are therefore more versatile than previously thought.
Finally, University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute researchers showed that adult bone marrow stem cells can become blood vessels. The researcher said “The findings suggest that these adult stem cells may be an ideal source of cells for clinical therapy”.
The Duke University Medical Centre researchers turned stem cells from knee fat into cartilage, bone and fat cells. The researcher said: “different clinical problems could be addressed by using adult cells taken from different spots throughout the body, without the same ethical concerns associated with embryonic stem cells”.
These are only a few examples of successful advances that have been made in the area of adult stem cell research. Why then would the Liberal government put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, in the bill, fail to acknowledge that even though scientists have been working for over 20 years with embryonic stem cells without any significant breakthrough in treating disease and seemingly pay no regard to the scientific breakthroughs that are happening within Canada and around the world in adult stem cell research?
Derek Rogusky, director of research at Focus on the Family, has stated that:
While embryonic stem cell research holds out a faint hope for Canadians suffering with disease, adult stem cell research is already changing lives for the better. Building on these successes, not the challenges of embryonic stem cells, is where we should be investing our tax dollars.
Stem cell research is a relevant issue to the bill and Canadians are eager to have the government take action. I suggest that the Liberal government take seriously the recommendation made by the Canadian Alliance to call for a three year prohibition on research on human embryos in order to realize the full potential of adult stem cells. This research thus far has only proven successful and therefore suggests that its future is bright.
The standing committee has said:
--in the past year, there have been tremendous gains in adult stem research in humans. We also heard that, after many years of embryo stem cell research with animal models, the results have not provided the expected advances. Therefore, we want to encourage research funding in the area of adult stem cells.
The official opposition's minority report called for a three year prohibition on the experimentation with human embryos, to allow time for the use of adult stem cells to be fully explored. It recommended:
--that the government strongly encourage its granting agencies and the scientific community to place the emphasis on adult (post-natal) stem cell research.
The House must acknowledge the use of adult stem cells and the significant advances that have already been made in this area. I therefore urge the government to implement the three year prohibition of experimentation on human embryos. While this is important legislation that has been long coming, let us not rush it through only to create new problems. People who suffer from debilitating diseases deserve the best science, certainly the best cure and indeed the best legislation. Let us do the job right if we are going to do it at all.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity in the debate to reply to some of the comments made by my colleague opposite. I respect absolutely the position that has been taken by the opposition and some Liberal members on the issues raised by Bill C-56, particularly as they pertain to stem cell research.
The member opposite in a very reasoned argument suggested that perhaps society is moving too quickly on this whole matter of experimenting with embryonic stem cells and the potential that they show and that surely first we should exploit, as a government, as a society, as scientists, the potentials of adult stem cells that may be taken from elsewhere in the body and may indeed with research be proved to be as effective as embryonic stem cells in addressing some of the illnesses that we have such hope these new procedures will cure eventually.
My problem with the argument is simply this. It is an ethical one, indeed. I think the whole debate is an ethical issue. If embryonic stem cells, taken as part of the procedures in which they would otherwise be discarded, because no one is in favour of creating embryonic stem cells deliberately for the purposes of research, but given that embryonic stem cells are now being routinely discarded, if we do not encourage the scientists to carry on research with these embryonic cells, and if we as my colleague opposite suggests and set that issue aside and concentrate on adult stem cells, what if we are delaying the procedures and the opportunities of people who have debilitating illnesses from becoming well?
For instance, I have a relative who has Parkinson's disease. It is very difficult to watch somebody who is close suffering from a disease for which we know there is no present cure. When I look at him, I am very anxious that a cure be provided for him before the Parkinson's disease reaches such an advanced state that it really debilitates him.
A person in my community suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease. That person has shown incredible courage in the way he has managed that disease over 10 years. He is really exceptional in the sense that he has lived far longer than anyone expected. He is completely paralyzed. It may be a matter of weeks or months, but it is a very short time in which that disease will finally kill him.
My difficulty is that if there is reasonably good scientific thought to the effect that embryonic stem cells may offer a better road to curing people of these terrible diseases, and we do not know for certain but the possibility is there, I feel very strongly that we have an ethical obligation to take advantage of that opportunity as it sits right now.
A problem with the idea of delaying, as was suggested in the minority report of the opposition to the health committee report, and I do not dispute the sincerity with which it made that report, is that there will be people who will die. There will be people whose diseases will advance enormously if we may find out in retrospect that embryonic cells are better and more effective in bringing about the cures that we hope from the stem cell research. That is my dilemma. I am not sure we can wait.
I would like to make one other point. There has been some reluctance to address the moral issue, the faith issue, that is lurking behind the whole debate on embryonic stem cells. There are a great many Canadians who as a matter of faith believe that life begins at conception and that part of the resistance to using embryonic cells for research is this whole idea that we are dealing with cells that have to do with the fundamentals of an individual human being.
I can only say how I react to that. I can accept that life may begin at conception. When a procedure occurs in which death follows that life, although these cells may be only a week old, they have to be discarded. That is death and I would submit that if in death those cells which we might regard as human beings can be used to give life, is that not what we all should want? I do not know how to express this very adequately, but I feel very strongly that the greatest gift that a living human being can give is the gift of life to another human being. If that gift of life is given at the moment of death then I think morally it is correct.
My difficulty in the bill is that I acknowledge the commitment and the passion that is felt by the people debating on all sides, and I have been reading the Hansard , but in the end with me it is an ethical and moral issue. In deciding, when the legislation does come before me for a vote, I will have to support the idea that when life gives over to death and that death gives opportunity to life, and I know where my vote will be.
The legislation, in supporting the limited use of embryonic cells always with the understanding these are discarded cells, ethically, at least for this person, the only choice that we have is to support what is in the legislation.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB
Mr. Speaker, I thank the two previous members who spoke to the legislation. They made some very thoughtful comments.
I rise today to address Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction. The legislation deals with some very difficult medical, scientific and ethical issues.
The bill has been expected for a long time, ever since the royal commission on new reproductive technologies reported in 1993. It is of course a direct response to the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health which reviewed draft legislation and made a series of recommendations on December 12, 2001.
I would like to publicly commend all members of that committee for their work, particularly our health critic, the member for Yellowhead, and the former member for Calgary Southwest, the former leader of the opposition, Mr. Preston Manning.
As the two previous speakers said, this is one of the most important issues we will discuss during this parliament. What does the bill do specifically? The proposed bill prohibits unacceptable practices, such as creating a human clone for any purpose, reproductive or therapeutic purposes; identifying the sex of an embryo created for reproductive purposes except for medical reasons, such as sex linked disorders; creating human/non-human combinations for reproductive purposes; paying a woman a financial incentive to be a surrogate mother, commercial surrogacy; paying donors for their sperm or eggs or providing goods or services in exchange; and selling or buying human embryos or providing goods or services in exchange. The official opposition generally supports these measures.
I would like to point out in particular the prohibition of sex selection for reproductive purposes. In 1994, as an assistant to the former MP for Surrey North, I had the opportunity to work on a private member's motion that sought to do exactly this. I commend the government for finally putting forward this measure in legislation.
The legislation would also establish the assisted human reproductive agency of Canada. This agency would operate as a separate organizational entity from Health Canada reporting to the Minister of Health. It would have up to 13 members on a board of directors reflecting a range of backgrounds and disciplines. I would suggest that whoever determines the agency, such as the minister, should consider someone like the former member for Calgary Southwest, Preston Manning, as a member on that board.
The agency would also be responsible for licensing, monitoring and enforcement of the act and its regulations. It would maintain a donor offspring registry. Finally, it would provide reliable information on assisted human reproduction to Canadians.
Our main concern about the agency is that it would report to the Minister of Health. We question whether it would have the independence required of such an agency to be truly effective.
The most contentious issue in the bill is obviously embryonic stem cell research, in particular, the fact that excess embryos would be used for research purposes. The bill would prohibit the creation of embryos solely for research purposes, something which I very much support.
I want to respond to the previous speaker whose comments I felt were well thought out. If we were to allow excess embryos from IVF, how could we be sure that they were not created simply for research purposes?
The member also indicated that the embryo was life and that if an excess embryo were created and subsequently killed, through death would we not seek to help other lives? That is partly true ethically, but the question is, are we unwillingly killing an embryo? This is not a willing person giving his or her life in a defensive situation for another life. There is no consent and that is something we have to consider.
This is a very difficult medical issue. My uncle is a diabetes researcher in Edmonton. I know many scientists are looking at embryonic stem cell research and see a lot of possibilities in it. They are looking at helping people through this research.
My main concern with this legislation and with other bills that come before the House is the lack of guidance by first principles. The majority report of the health committee suggested we include in the preamble of the legislation the phrase “the dignity of and respect for human life”. That has to be in the bill at the very beginning. We have to be guided by that first principle.
That was stated in both the majority report from the Liberals and the minority report from the official opposition. It should be included in clause 22 of the bill as a primary objective of the new agency.
That brings me to the biggest question we face, which is the question behind the bill. It seems that many people do not want to answer the question of the distinction between a human life, human being or human person. It is interesting to note that philosophers in ancient times always defined terms in the preamble or before they even got down to the serious work. That is what we have to do here. We have to define these terms.
The definition of a human being under section 223(1) of the criminal code, as it is currently written, states:
A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not
(a) it has breathed,
(b) it has an independent circulation, or
(c) the navel string is severed.
Frankly, that definition is unacceptable to me and it is unacceptable to most ethicists and people in the medical community in Canada.
I would draw the attention of the House to a question Mr. Preston Manning asked during the health committee discussion on this draft bill. He wanted to know what the moral status of the embryo as captured by the legislation should be and how we would establish and define that moral status in law? That was an excellent question.
Ms. Françoise Baylis, from Dalhousie University's department of bioethics, gave the following response:
In philosophy, we would refer to this as an essentially contested concept. There is no answer to it because it is not a matter of fact, and there are no more facts to put on the table that will resolve the question, though there are more facts about human development.
The first thing to recognize in the legislation and in all of your conversations is that embryos are human beings.
Her response contradicts the definition that is currently in the criminal code.
She went on to state:
That is an uncontested biological fact. They are a member of the human species. What is contested is their moral status. The language we use there is technical and that's where we talk about persons.
She has distinguished between a human being and a human person.
She went on to state:
I think what becomes very clear is that when you are talking about embryos you don't need to have a debate about whether or not they are human or human beings. The answer is yes.
She said that debate had been decided. She said that it was a biological claim and stated:
The term “person” however is not a biological term. It is not a term about which there are facts. It is a moral term, a value laden term about which people will disagree and they will then point to facts and try to tell you that their definition is the right one.
I think that was a very illuminating exchange between Preston Manning and Françoise Baylis. That to me is the crux of the issue here. If it is, as she said, decided that the embryo is in fact a human being but it is not technically a human person, then that is what our debate should be about today.
If we all agree that the embryo is a nascent human life but it is not necessarily a person, what is it that distinguishes a human person from a human being? What characteristics or criteria do we use? When do embryos become persons and what is the distinction?
In researching this I went through some of my old essays. One essay was by the Canadian philosopher, George Grant, one of the most pre-eminent philosophers this country has ever seen. In discussing another issue, he said that we have to think as a society about what it is that is common to us as a species but unique to us as a species so that we can stand up and say there is a charter of rights in which we as human beings have a right to life. We do not do that. The definition in the criminal code is simply biological, not ethical. That is a debate we should have.
The reason the Canadian Alliance and the official opposition are very hesitant about embryonic stem cell research is not only because of the potential of adult stem cell research but because it is part of our conservative philosophy that we define things, as Aristotle did, not simply as they are, not simply looking at what they are today but at what they will potentially be. That was his famous concept of actus et potentia in which we examine an acorn, not just look at it but examine it, knowing that it will become an oak tree. We also look at an embryo not just as an embryo but we look at it knowing that it will become a human being.
In conclusion, I encourage all members to deliberate on these very difficult medical, scientific and ethical issues.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I think it is important for all members to make comments in this particular debate. It is something that is controversial and something with which I think each of us have struggled.
There is one thing that I think is necessary. So far the government is doing it and I hope it will continue in this vein, and that is that there has to be full and unrestricted debate on this legislation. We cannot have closure on this at some point or some attempt to rush this through. I hope the government sees that. There is no indication it would do otherwise but I trust it will stay with that.
In committee, in particular, aside from debate, it is very necessary that there be full public consultation. We have had some arguments, I guess we could call it, with the transport committee recently. The Canadian Alliance refused travel on a particular piece of legislation. I go along with that simply because with the committee travel that I have been a part of before I have seen occasions where we go out and hear overwhelming testimony from the public one way or another where people are of a common mind. Yet the legislation or any amendments that pass at the committee level do not reflect what we have heard from the public, which then of course brings to cause whether we should be bothering to consult and pretend to go through this facade if indeed we are not going to reflect what people have said.
In this bill in particular it is very important that we not only consult with the public but that the legislation ultimately reflects the will of the public as a result of those consultations. Beyond that, when it comes back to the House for a vote, I think it is very necessary that this be a free vote. A free vote is often something that is misinterpreted. A free vote should not be for individual members of parliament like myself, my colleague who just spoke or any of the members across the way to vote the way they personally feel regardless of input from others.
There are 301 members of parliament in the House and collectively we represent all the people of this country. The free vote should reflect our consultation with the people we represent in our individual ridings. We should take the time and the trouble to explain these issues, to bring the information before our constituents, to seek input from those constituents and ultimately to vote according to the direction of those constituents after they have been informed as openly as possible of the pros and cons of this bill.
We support a three year delay in proceeding with any experimentation on embryonic stem cells. We do this, first, because there have been great advances in the case of adult stem cell research and utilization of adult stem cells in treatments. There has been nothing that indicates or has demonstrated the ability of embryotic stem cells to be superior to adult stem cells. We keep hearing about the potential of what might be, what could be. The reality is that there is absolutely nothing concrete yet that says it is superior.
To the contrary. We know there are a lot of problems with embryotic stem cells because of rejection. We are using foreign tissue and, as a result, there is a rejection problem. I have some acquaintances and friends who have gone through organ transplants only to reject them and need the operation again. Rejection is a serious thing and it is something we want to avoid at all costs.
There is probably a desire on the part of some people to say that they want some kind of magic fix that is squirted up their noses which fixes their toes, so to speak. The reality is that in the treatment that comes from adult stem cell research, the stem cell is taken from the individual who is being treated so there is no rejection problem but it is very site specific. There is not necessarily a problem with that as long as they ultimately manage to produce the medications and cures necessary to deal with illnesses that are currently treatable.
I hope the vote of individual members of parliament does reflect the information that has gone out to the public and the opinions of their own constituents that they get back.
Certainly we need some of the things proposed in the bill, and there are some things that should be in the bill but are missing, one of them being a total and absolute ban on the creation of hybrids. A hybrid is the result of a human egg fertilized with an animal's sperm. It is fine to say that we will not allow it to proceed to fruition, but there is no justification for even the creation of it. It opens up the door to all kinds of horrors. We think it is something that should be nipped in the bud and stopped. I do not think there will be much support at all from the general public. I am sure that if hon. members took the trouble to have even quick consultations with their constituents they would find that most of their constituents would be shocked and horrified at the very concept of this thing proceeding.
One area that I have a couple of concerns about deals with the same category. It has to do with placing limitations on the donors. There is a very obvious need for this. I do not think it has been spelled out in the bill at all, and it needs to be. We have had some cases, one in particular in the United States, where a very unscrupulous individual who was supposedly acting on behalf of a number of donors simply supplied all the sperm himself. It turned out that he had hundreds of offspring with none of them realizing that they were interrelated, with all the potential problems that brings forward. There need to be some guidelines and safety measures put in place to ensure that this can never happen.
Beyond that but on the same concept is an area that our party is proposing, and I agree with it, providing the right caveats are in place, and that is the rights of the child who is born as a result of embryonic mixing. When that child grows up and wants to know who the parents are, our party's position is that absolutely the information should be available to the child. I agree that our background history, our knowledge of our ancestors and our heritage is very important. There is something that needs to be put in the bill with regard to this, very clearly and specifically. There must be some kind of legal protection for the donors so that there can be absolutely no question about it, so that the child cannot come back years later and say “You are my father so you have to pay for my full education” or for some other costs. The intention has supposedly been spelled out in the bill, but we know that often intention does not prove to be reality.
In regard to intention, we have seen all kinds of bills offered by the government. One that always sticks in my mind is conditional sentencing. That is where someone does not serve any time in jail. Violent offenders were allowed to go free as a result of that. When we brought the issue back to the House, the minister who introduced that legislation said that it was never the intention that it would apply to violent offenders. The reality is that because it was not clearly spelled out in the bill it was indeed applied to violent offenders.
It needs to be made absolutely clear in law, in the bill, that the children created through this type of birth can have access to their parents' histories but that there can be no legal or financial ramifications that would come back on those parents.
One area which I think shows maybe a bit of arrogance on the part of the government is the method by which the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada would operate. I would hope we would all agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with creating an agency for which the government appoints those who will be in that agency and then allows the minister herself to give that agency any policy direction that she wishes. Further, the agency is obliged to follow the directions given to it by the minister and must ensure that these directions remain secret. That basically says that we will appoint one person in the House who will decide for herself which direction things will go in and who will be accountable to absolutely no one and will not even have to release the information about which decision was made except to give direction to those who would carry out that will. That is fundamentally wrong. That is one thing that has to stop.
I see that I am out of time, but I think this is the kind of subject for which we need to have a great deal of time and consideration. We need to listen to one another and consider one another's position. I would hope that each person does take the time to consult with their constituents and reflect upon their needs and wishes rather than just take direction from their parties, and I hope that we ultimately have a free vote which truly will reflect the wishes of our constituents.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, I dare say that this is a bill which more than any other in recent years, perhaps, has caused members of parliament to look deep within themselves, to consult broadly with constituents, and to hear from many groups that I think have a very visceral and emotional attachment to the content and implications of this legislation. Many members have given very thoughtful, personal and almost philosophic views as to how the bill would impact them, their constituents and the country as a whole.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is a bill upon which we should reflect with a great deal of care and caution as we proceed. Although the bill is one that has been a long time in coming, I certainly hope that the government does not push it through with any degree of urgency or carelessness. It is one that will require significant input from numerous sectors in society, including the religious, the scientific, the groups concerned about privacy elements, and there are the medical concerns of the numerous groups working toward medical research which will enhance and improve basic human life.
The bill has been a long time in the process, but I will preface my remarks by saying that we should not by any means rush headlong into the final draft of this legislation. In May, when the bill was first introduced, it came to public knowledge with a great deal of attention and consternation. The bill, I am quick to point out, prohibits human cloning and the creation of an in vitro embryo for purposes other than creating life. It also prohibits the creation of an embryo from an embryo or from a fetus for the purpose of creating a human being.
It creates the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada, the AHRAC, which would exercise the powers found in clause 24 in relation to the licences under the bill. Subclause 25(1) states:
The Minister may issue policy directions to the Agency concerning the exercise of any of its powers, and the Agency shall give effect to directions so issued.
There has been concern expressed about the accountability of this agency. What will comprise the agency? How far reaching will its powers be? What checks and balances will be in place? These are very legitimate questions. The bill states that the governor in council may make regulations concerning the use of human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo for research purposes, that is, use of embryonic stem cells. A licence from the referred to agency for such research will also be required.
Although the bill would prohibit the paying of surrogate mothers under clause 6, certain expenditures may be reimbursed according to the regulations set out in paragraph 65(1)(e).
Suffice it to say that the bill is one in which it is important to examine and highlight what it prohibits as well as what it allows or permits. It raises questions that, as I have referred to, may be incomplete at this point and may even be dangerous. It is a bill that will test the intellect of individuals and members of parliament, their moral fibre, the conflicts that may exist between their religious beliefs and their rational view of the scientific elements of the bill, and their emotional personal beliefs. I would suggest that it raises as many questions as it answers. Caution should be exercised.
The bill gives the government a wide range of powers to regulate the type of research that will occur and parliament may therefore be marginalized or pushed aside after the legislation comes into effect. It is a stark reminder for us that parliament has to do its work in the first instance. In essence, we must get it right the first time, because if changes are not brought about to keep parliament in the loop there may be no future ability for parliament to reconsider and bring these issues back to the floor, at least not as is envisioned in the current bill.
It also goes against the spirit of the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Health that human embryonic stem cell research be allowed as an exception and only after it has been demonstrated that the research can be done with no other biological material. That came about under recommendation number 14. Nor does it reflect the recommendation with respect to the research and the ability with which the government then intervenes in or commences this research.
The agency I referred to earlier, AHRAC, will issue licences for research, advise the government and oversee the application of the law. This agency is not at arm's length but is under the powers of the minister, as is clearly stated in clause 25. Limits on the acceptable number of embryos created and stored for reproductive purposes are not addressed by the bill in its current form. The government will determine these limits as it sees fit, outside the purview of, the review of and the rigorous testing that is supposed to occur in the parliamentary process.
The bill also follows closely the CIHR regulations and guidelines that were issued on March 4, well before the bill. At the committee level, Dr. Bernstein, the president of the CIHR, confirmed that the minister was well aware beforehand that such guidelines were being issued. In all likelihood the guidelines serve as a barometer to check public relations and public opinion on the proposition. This method of proceeding is highly undemocratic, I would suggest, and again it pushes parliament aside and prevents us from doing the rigorous review that is demanded and required in democracies.
The committee also recommended that at least half of the members of the agency be comprised of women. The bill does not address that issue.
In looking at the bill, I want to highlight, as other members have, that there are a number of practices that are out and out banned. It is important to highlight them again. Banned are: human cloning; creation of in vitro embryo for anything other than creating a human or improving reproductive purposes; creating an embryo from an embryo; sex determination of embryo for non-medical purposes; human and non-human hybrids for reproductive purposes. Other members have talked about the horrors of this sort of tampering with God's creation. To in some fashion bring in stem cells or life forms that were not envisioned in the beginning is very unsettling and is frightening to the very core for many Canadians.
Also banned are: inheritable DNA manipulation of sperm, ovum or embryos; maintaining an embryo outside a woman's body past its 14th day of development; removal of reproductive materials from a donor's body after death without prior written consent of the donor; commercial surrogacy, that is, paying sperm or ovum donors and buying or selling a human embryo. All of these practices are completely banned under this legislation. I would suggest that when examining the legislation we can see that many of the great, grave and legitimate concerns that have been expressed are to some degree addressed in the out and out banning of those activities.
It is also important to note the deterrence elements. Those convicted of contravening these bans face criminal code offences with fines of up to $500,000 or prison terms of up to 10 years. The consequences are severe, are real and are codified in the legislation.
Regulated activities include the storage, handling and use of sperm, ovum and embryos and also the provision of compensation to surrogates for reasonable expenses such as maternity clothes, medical treatment and for other receipts that are provided.
This is without a doubt a very comprehensive bill, one that inevitably will cause members to consult broadly, as they should, as I said in my opening remarks. It is important for us to take the bill very systematically and very carefully through our process. It will proceed next to the committee, where some of those same members who sat on the earlier committee will have an opportunity to use their prior knowledge, their gained knowledge, to rigorously examine witnesses who will be called, witnesses with the expertise that many members of parliament, including myself, might lack. They are individuals who have a very important perspective to be heard.
I suggest again that this is not a bill that we should sidestep in any fashion but it is one that we have to proceed with and respect because of the elements of a human life which are encompassed in this type of legislation.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity as well to rise on this important occasion, one that we have been anticipating for years. In fact this dates back many years now. When the Prime Minister came in and assumed office in 1993, there were some fundamental issues then. Here we are almost nine years later dealing with this.
It seems very strange that we are doing this in almost a hurry up fashion before the House rises for the summer. In fact there is even talk of prorogation. We certainly have to question how important this is to the government, in light of recent events. I am sure the government has some concerns about this but one would hate to think that this might be some sort of tactic to toss it in to get flaming issues off the back burner. Nonetheless, we do need to look at this but not in such a hurried fashion. We should really study this.
Ten or fifteen years ago we would not have even had this debate because the technology was not available to determine some of these very sensitive but important ethical and technological questions. We certainly need to deal with it because the advances in medicine have been absolutely phenomenal.
I would like to take the few minutes I have to talk about the important and amazing breakthroughs taking place with non-embryonic stem cell research or adult stem cell research if that is a synonym. Then I would like to talk about what the whole argument is, where the road will lead us and what is the definition of human life. I would like to use that as my thesis and discuss for a few moments how important it is to say that the Canadian Alliance supports stem cell research. Again the breakthroughs in medicine and research have been just absolutely phenomenal in these last few years, and we are able to celebrate that.
Having said that, it is not all done because there are breakthroughs daily, weekly, monthly, in terms of stem cell research and exciting things are happening all the time. It is not a closed book.
If we bring in legislation to say that we will go down the embryonic stem cell research route without fully realizing and celebrating the importance and amazing breakthroughs taking place with non-embryonic stem cell research, then it seems to me we would be cutting ourselves short, cutting the Canadian public short and cutting short the people whose lives are depending on this.
There have been tremendous breakthroughs with Parkinson's disease and MS. We had the ALS people here on the Hill not long ago. These are real people who have real names, real faces, real families and whose lives can benefit so much by this.
It would be premature for us to say that the government has all the answers and that we will go down this path when we have not fully explored the path of adult stem cell research. Because of these exciting breakthroughs, it would be essential for us to say that there would be a three year review, as the government has said. That is terrific but I hate to be cynical but this. Those of us who have been around more than three years have watched some of these reviews. A few of us have seen a few three year cycles in this place. The Canadian Alliance is calling for a three year moratorium on this so we can see, in the long term, some of the scientific advances being made in this area.
Adult stem cell research, or non-embryonic stem cell research, has three benefits. There are probably lots more but we could talk about three of them. First, the cells are readily accessible and there are plenty of us around.
Second, they are not subject to tissue rejection. These are cells that have gone on and in some cases some much longer than others. There is tremendous potential and realization. If the cells are not subject to tissue rejection, what a wonderful thing. We could do the stem cell research and testing. Because these are not embryonic stem cells, people would be able to move ahead because there would be no tissue rejection, which is important and can be devastating to many transplant patients.
Third, it poses minimal ethical concerns. I am sure that every one of us would agree that there are huge ethical concerns here. As I mentioned earlier, this was not even a factor 10 or 15 years ago. We did not have the potential for these kinds of things so it was not a real ethical dilemma. However it now is.
We get into the very question of what is important and what is essential for us to realize in terms of embryos are embryos and when do we stop saying that an embryo has been developed by parents. Let us not just call them donors, because whoever they are, they have names, faces, families and loved ones as well. When does it leave that path and swap over to the path of getting at it and farming these things for pure scientific research or use as donors.
We talk about that and the transition from embryonic stem cell research to what is the definition of human life, because I think that is with what all of us probably struggle. I know the committee, which did tremendous work, discussed that I am sure at length and had to come up with what human life really was and when did it start. Those questions have been asked for a very long time. I will not get into that debate.
I just want to show a couple of examples of how thankful I am and how strongly I believe, because of DNA and because of all kinds of other factors, that life begins at conception. If we look at the DNA of any embryo, that is again technology which has only been perfected or advanced in the last several years. DNA does not start at birth. It does not start at 27 weeks gestation. It does not start at 13.5 days. It starts at the moment of conception. That, with scientific research to back it up, is when life really starts. Then we get down the road to whether we start farming these things or do we celebrate that as human life.
Let me tell the House about my brother, Sean, who is adopted. He came to our home when I was about six years old and he was about two or two and a half years old. All of a sudden I had a brother. I am very grateful that somebody, somewhere, who was in a difficult situation, chose to give him up for adoption. Because of that I ended up with a brother. I do not pay any attention to the fact that he is adopted or that he has different DNA than any of the rest of us. It does not matters. What matters is that somebody, somewhere realized that this was a human life.
He is now a living, breathing human being. He is my brother, he has been for a very long time and I am glad for that. That is the real life, the real face, the real people issue of this for which I am grateful. He has been my brother forever and will continue to be. I am grateful that somebody, somewhere realized that although he was just an embryo then, he was still a human being.
Let me talk for a couple of minutes about something I read in the newspaper yesterday. When we talk about when human life really starts, we think it has to have so much weight or so much gestation or whatever. There was a story about a little girl. The newspaper named her Pearl because it could not give her real name. This took place in France. She was born in February. She weighed 10 ounces. This is an absolute record of a living, breathing person who was born at 10 ounces.
I think about a pound of butter. I am not too good with math, but I think about my palm pilot and how I can bounce it around in my hand. It feels a little bit less than a pound of butter so maybe it is 10 ounces, I do not know. The palm pilot people would know, but it is not very big. If we hold 10 ounces in our hands, it is not very big. Yet there she is. She came home from the hospital this weekend. She weighs four pounds, four ounces now. She is a real live human being. That to me is exciting.
That is what we need to debate and celebrate; that human life begins right at the moment of conception, because that is when our DNA starts. That is where little baby Pearl started. She has gone home from the hospital now and I am sure she will give great joy and satisfaction to her family.
I will just wrap up by saying, I move:
That the motion be amended by replacing all the words after the word “that” with:
“this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, since the principle of the Bill does not recognize the value of non-embryonic stem cell research which has had great advancements in the last year”.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The amendment is in order.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, first, I want to go back a year and explain the process that went on with the legislation. It is very important that we look at exactly what we have in Bill C-56 and understand why it is in there. It all started a year ago on May 4 when the bill went directly to committee. It is the first piece of legislation that has ever gone directly to committee. It went right to committee, and I commend the minister at the time for doing that. It is a very contentious issue which is important to all members of the House and all Canadians.
Putting it before committee was a very wise thing to do, before entrenchment of partisan lines and before people said things in which they would entrap themselves before fully understanding the issue. For nine months the committee examined this issue. It had the best witnesses from across Canada and around the world tear the legislation apart and look at it from all sides; the scientific side, the ethical side and the family values side. At the end it was suggested that maybe it was named inappropriately and that it should be named building families.
There are really two parts. We have the part about the in vitro fertilization, the idea of what it takes when infertile couples cannot have children and what has to happen for them to conceive. We looked at what would assist them to build families, to build healthy new Canadians who would develop into prosperous individuals to help and grow society in Canada.
The other side is perhaps as some people would argue not even applicable to the bill. It is all on the scientific side which drives the idea that research should be done to ease the suffering of individuals, which has nothing to do with reproduction other than getting some of the material that could perhaps be used for stem cells in this area. That was important to understand.
We listened to everyone. For scientists, the success of in vitro fertilization is a brand new baby boy or girl. However for society it is much deeper than that. We had witnesses who appeared before the committee who said that who their parents were, where they came from, if there was an anonymous donor that they did not know anything about, left a void in their life which they could not handle later in life. It was very important that we understood the structure of the human body, which is very complex, and the psychological effects on many individuals. Success from the different perspectives was very different so we had to look at all sides of the issue.
On the embryonic stem cell side, if we are going to destroy an embryo, destroy life at its beginning to achieve stem cells by 14 days, kill it, take the stem cells and do research is an ethical minefield in the eyes of many people. We are taking human life at its very early and most vulnerable stage and destroying it. It is not an issue of whether life begins there or not. Biologically it does and whether we like that or not there is nothing we can do about that. The issue is how much value do we place on life at that stage. That is the ethical dilemma in which the House will be placed. It is something that we wrestled with as a committee for a year.
At the end of that, we recognized that there were other alternatives. We had scientists come to the committee who said that we should not go down that path. From the scientific research being done and the easing of human suffering, it was much more successful on the adult stem cell side of it.
In December the committee issued its report on its findings entitled, “Assisted Human Reproduction: Building Families”. This was an all party committee. The committee had a majority of Liberal members, and the other members of parliament were three Canadian Alliance, two Bloc, one NDP and one Progressive Conservative. After we listened to all the witnesses, we came up with these recommendations.
The recommendation states:
Research using embryos be a controlled activity requiring a licence. Even if all other regulatory criteria are met, no licence may be issued unless the applicant clearly demonstrates that no other category of biological material could be used for the purposes of the proposed research.
Prior to that, the preamble, we came to that conclusion because we heard that embryonic stem cell research presents some possibilities. Other sources, such as umbilical cord blood or adult stem cells are more available, are more easily obtained, are less ethically contentious. Some witnesses argued that research on stem cells using sources other than embryos might be sufficient to obtain the stem cell potential.
The committee was struck with the testimony that in the past year there have been tremendous gains in adult stem cell research in humans. We also heard that after many years of embryonic stem cell research in animal models, the results are not providing the expected advances. Therefore, we want to encourage research funding in the area of adult stem cells.
After nine months of listening to the best and the brightest in our land and in the world, the committee which had no vested interest said that there were two ways we could go. We could destroy life at its beginning and do research on the embryo which has very limited scientific possibilities at this time, or we could go on this other line which is the adult or non-embryonic stem cell research, which is umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid and on and on. The committee decided to go there. The bill does not reflect that and therein lies the problem and the reason for an amendment. We need a piece of legislation that recognizes the value of the adult or non-embryonic stem cell research.
What has happened since December? As I reported a couple of days ago in the House, in the last 60 days there have been a number of different advancements that have happened involving Parkinson's patients. These results were not just proposed and looked hopeful; the patients were actually cured. It is the same thing for multiple sclerosis and autoimmune resistance and on and on. We have seen tremendous gains in the last 60 days compared to any other time in history. What has happened in this line of research in the last year has been absolutely phenomenal. The advancement is growing and growing.
What happens in the next 60 days or in the next year becomes something we have to recognize. We have to be very cautious of going down the ethically charged line of destroying life at its beginning. All of this is important.
What is interesting is that because of this research we see actual cures coming from adult stem cell research. This was in an article on the fourth or fifth page of the Globe and Mail . If the research had been done on embryos and it had been embryonic stem cells that had cured the Parkinson's and MS patients, it would have been a shot heard around the world.
The drive of the scientists and society to get to the embryos is absolutely astounding. We do not have enough information on this whole area. It is very important that we take our time. We have to deliberate. Society has to wrestle with the same things we have wrestled with in committee so that we do not make mistakes. We must be wise in how we go down this ethically charged line.
The whole idea of patent law is not part of the bill because patent law comes under the industry minister. It is unfortunate. Something on patenting the human body should be placed in this legislation. Patenting the human body should not take place. The human body should be something that we cherish. How we find it may be patented, but certainly we should not allow ourselves to patent the human body.
The most important part of this legislation is not what we do with the embryo; it is what we do with the agency that licenses the research as we go forward in the 21st century. It must be accountable and garner the trust of Canadians if we are to truly have a piece of legislation and work in areas that are so ethically charged. It has to be looked at. It has to be changed. We have to make that as open and transparent as possible. I encourage all members to be wise as we deliberate in that area.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Paul Szabo Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-56 has to do with reproductive technologies and related research. I would think that most members would agree that the vast majority of the bill has some important provisions which should be supported. However, there are a few items which should be considered for amendment.
One of the areas has to do with stem cells. Stem cells in lay terms are cells which can be adjusted to become virtually any healthy cell in the human body. This means that those cells could be used to repair damaged cells.
Stem cells can be harvested from embryos. They can also be harvested from aborted fetuses, umbilical cords, umbilical cord blood, placentas, amniotic fluid, in fact from virtually every organ in the human body. They are readily available but the question does come up as to whether or not it is ethical to harvest embryonic stem cells from the human embryo.
There is a saying in ethics that when the ethically unacceptable and the scientifically possible are in conflict, the ethical view must prevail. I also cite Dr. Françoise Baylis, who is a bioethicist at McGill University. In her testimony before the Standing Committee on Health, I believe it was on May 31, 2001 she said “An embryo is a human being. That is an uncontested biological fact. It is a member of the human species”.
I do not believe that in terms of the ethical view there is a disagreement with regard to whether or not an embryo is a human being. However, there are ethical arguments about whether or not that human being is in fact a person. It is a deep ethical argument into which I do not have the time to go. There is some basis for having concern about embryonic stem cell research.
The province of Quebec, on hearing the direction in which the Canadian Institutes of Health Research was going, immediately called for and imposed a ban on all embryonic stem cell research in the province. That was in January.
In February there was another important development. The secretary of human and health services in the United States introduced an amendment to a regulation which defines child. For health purposes, child in the United States is defined as a person under 19 years of age, including the period from conception to birth. It is a very significant change in the United States in terms of its policy with regard to the unborn.
The big debate has to do with an ethical argument surrounding when life begins. Human embryos can provide stem cells but uniquely from those stem cells there is an ethical problem in that to harvest the stem cells the embryo must be destroyed. That is an important point. Also, because the stem cells taken from an embryo would be of a particular DNA foreign to the ultimate patient, that means there will be immune rejection problems and the requirement for lifelong anti-rejection drug treatment which is a difficult situation.
In addition, embryonic stem cells which are injected under the skin have a tendency to create spontaneous tumours. They are very difficult to control. In a monograph I wrote, “The Ethics and Science of Stem Cells”, I related an example where embryonic stem cells were injected into the brain of a Parkinson's patient. After the person died about year later an autopsy showed that there was hair and bone growing in the person's brain. It gives an idea of the kinds of things that should concern people about what can happen when we start to play with genetic engineering.
On the other hand, with adult stem cells, there is no ethical problem. Because they would come from the patient, there would be no immune rejection problem nor the requirement for drugs. The stem cells would be readily available. Instead of being injected into a person's damaged area, they are simply injected into the blood and they have the ability to migrate to the damaged area.
It makes a great deal of sense to expand the research with regard to embryonic stem cells. This was the point of the motion made by the hon. member, to amplify the importance of adult stem cell research as the health committee indicated.
The whole issue has to do with research on surplus embryos from fertility clinics. If there was no surplus, there would be no question here. Let me give the House an idea of what happens.
Dr. Baylis, to whom I referred earlier, indicated there were about 500 frozen embryos in all fertility clinics across Canada. Currently about 250 of those are being utilized for reproductive purposes which leaves 250. In her presentation she also indicated that half of the frozen embryos will not survive thawing. They will die simply because of the process. That leaves 125. She went on to say that of the 125 embryos left, only nine of them will have the capacity to produce any kind of stem cell and only about five of those will actually produce stem cells which are of a quality necessary for research purposes. This means that only five out of 250 embryos are useful, but 250 embryos have to be destroyed just to get five that are going to be useful for research. That is 2%, which is an unacceptable threshold for scientific research. We have to do something about it.
What can we do about it? If there were no surplus embryos from fertility clinics, the question would be moot. We would be dealing with a motion that states that embryos can be created specifically for research and then put that question to the House.
The bill suggests that we use surplus embryos which should not exist. That is trying to get through the back door what research cannot get through the front door, that is, to have embryos for research. We should deal with that question directly. I wish the House were able to deal with that motion.
We can do something about this. There has been extensive research with regard to the process of storing women's eggs. Fertility clinics drug women very heavily to make them hyperovulate. This makes them produce a whole bunch of eggs. Ten to 20 eggs would be harvested. All of those eggs would then be fertilized. Some would be used for in vitro fertilization. The balance would be frozen for future in vitro processes. If the first process worked and the couple did not want a second child and they did not want to donate the egg to another person who wanted it, the embryos would become surplus.
What happens if we store women's eggs? It means that only a few will be harvested. Those needed for the in vitro fertilization process will be fertilized and stored. Once the first process is done and more eggs are required for the next process, they simply are thawed out, fertilized and then implanted. The bottom line is there would be no surplus. It is very important that more be invested in the process of storing women's eggs.
In a previous speech I indicated my concern about the whole question of commercialization. On May 24 I received from Dr. Timothy Caulfield, who appeared before the health committee, a response to my concern about commercialization. He said:
In particular, I too am concerned about the impact of the commercialization process in this context. Much of my work has sought to highlight the potentially adverse implications of commercializing genetic research, e.g., the creation of unique conflicts of interest, the skewing of university based research, contributing to the narrowing of the social definition of “normalcy” and a broadening of the notions of disease and disability.
There are very many issues involved with this legislation, including things like patentability and the idea of having an agency to whom we would second the responsibility for defining an ethical framework for research. The bill needs a lot of work. I want Canadians to know that there is no group, no organization, no individual who is opposed to stem cell research. The question is will we get them ethically?
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, once again it is a pleasure to participate in this important debate today now that we have an amendment before the House stating that the House declines to give second reading to Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, since the principle of the bill does not recognize the value of non-embryonic stem cell research which has had great advancements in the last year.
The amendment gives me an opportunity to further expand on some of the comments I made earlier today in terms of my concern that the bill, as it is presently before the House, does not represent the broad bases of science that are available to us in Canada and around the world particularly relating to stem cell research. Those of us who have concerns about the bill would like to bring to the attention of hon. members that the legislation should be sent back to committee for a more balanced approach in terms of the best science we can get from embryonic and adult stem cell research.
All of us want to see cures for some of these debilitating diseases, diseases that can be terminal such as ALS and others. I would not want to be responsible for not allowing the science to go forward within some kind of regulatory framework that would allow for a cure, if indeed there was a cure, to be found through adult stem cell research. We do have an ethical dilemma surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells. We do not have the same kind of dilemma with adult stem cell research.
I must say I was struck by the comments of my hon. colleague from Hamilton, a former McMaster graduate who I went to school with. I was taken by his comments about the use of adult and embryonic stem cells and particularly, the fact that we would not want to see any stone left unturned in this whole debate to allow the science to go forward. Indeed, he made the comment that if a life had to end to give new life to someone else, he would be in favour of that.
I am in favour of seeing tissue and organ donation come forward. The only thing I want to say to him about that is that the fetus and embryo do not have a choice. They do not have the opportunity to make a choice as to whether or not they will be a donor, in effect giving life to someone else through their death. We do have an ethical concern surrounding that issue and we need to spend more time on that. I am sure hon. colleagues will take that into consideration when they are thinking about this issue.
We have talked about the issue of ALS, Parkinson's and others. An article in the Reuters News Agency on April 8, 2002, stated:
A transplant of his own brain cells have treated a man's Parkinson's disease, clearing up the trembling and rigid muscles that mark the disease, researchers reported on Monday.
The researchers believe they isolated and nurtured adult stem cells from the patient's brain, cells that they re-injected to restore normal function.
“We definitely need to do more studies,” said Dr. Michael Levesque of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who led the study. “This is the first case that shows a promising technique may work. It is an experimental procedure and has to be investigated further before it becomes accepted procedure.”
More than two years after the experimental treatment, the man has no symptoms of Parkinson's, an incurable and fatal brain disease that starts with tremors and ends up incapacitating its victims.
That is fantastic. If indeed we are seeing those kinds of advances in medical research today and if in this case, as in some others we could cite, it has come about because of medical research with adult stem cells, then it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure we do all we can to bring all of the research available in this field into the legislative equation. We must not go overboard on one aspect of stem cell research which seems to be the case in the present legislation.
There is also the whole business of donor consent. Those children who are born through artificial insemination do not at the present time have access to the medical records or the background of the donors. The legislation is absolutely faulty in that regard.
I recently spoke on the telephone with a constituent back in Nanaimo. This young lady is 20 years of age. She is wonderfully healthy and a productive member of society who is the result of artificial insemination. Her concern is that she does not have access to the medical records and histories which could be helpful to her as she goes into adulthood and wants to raise her own family.
The government, through this legislation, is unwilling to open the door to this particular kind of thing. Her suggestion was, and I pass it on to the rest of the members of the House and particularly to the committee, that we should only be considering donors who are willing to be identified to those who, at the age of majority, need to have this kind of information about their birthing parents in terms of artificial insemination.
There are a number of considerations that come into play. When we compare it to adoption there is indeed legal recourse for finding out this kind of information. People who at this point in their lives want to find out where the egg or the sperm came from that created them through artificial insemination need to have the same access to that kind of information that people who were adopted have. Indeed there should be a level playing field in that area.
There is a real need to clarify some important points in this legislation. We are hoping that when it goes back to committee it will indeed be prepared to accept amendments that bring this legislation into an even stronger position to protect those who are looking for protection in the bill and who are looking for cures that at this point are not available.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased I have an opportunity to again reply to a speech by the member for Nanaimo--Cowichan because we are having a very important dialogue here. What is before the House is a bill dealing with a high moral issue. It is proper for parliament to debate a high moral issue when morality comes into interface with science or other aspects of society.
I note that the member for Nanaimo--Cowichan called for a free vote on this piece of legislation and I take him at heart on that because I will give him an argument that I hope he will consider when he comes to vote himself.
There are two givens in this argument. First, one should accept, for this bill, that life begins at conception. Second, one needs to accept that to arbitrarily take life away is murder. We are not talking about collecting embryonic stem cells deliberately by creating individuals and then killing them.
The collection of embryonic stem cells for the purposes of research into Parkinson's, or whatever else, is only in the context of where the embryonic stem cells would be discarded otherwise, either from a fertility clinic or, and the bill does not mention this, presumably from spontaneous miscarriage, or wherever there is fetal material that as a result of a proper hospital procedure results in embryonic material being available.
The moral argument from my point of view is that the ultimate good is to preserve human life. My difficulty is with the proposals coming from the opposition and members of my own side. They suggest that we should delay implementation of allowing embryonic stem cell research as proposed in this legislation until we see whether adult stem cell research can have the same effect. My problem with that, as I mentioned earlier, is that we may be condemning people to death or to disability who we might otherwise save should embryonic stem cell research be fruitful as a means of curing things like Parkinson's, ALS and others.
I would like to put it again in a human context. In my village there is a couple in our church who we know very well. The wife is suffering severely from Parkinson's disease. The husband comes to me and says, “John, please support Bill C-56 because if there is any chance that embryonic stem cells can be developed as a cure for Parkinson's I would like it in time to save my wife who is in a great deal of difficulty right now”.
So, the basic moral dilemma from my point of view: even if embryonic stem cell research only has a 5% chance of being more successful than adult stem cell research, I do not feel I have the moral right to delay that research if it means it could possibly save some lives of people out there who are suffering from these terrible diseases.
The member for Nanaimo--Cowichan, after our interchange before, came over to me and said, “John, I listened to you very carefully”, and he is a very good member if I may say so. We really want to get at the truth here. He said that the problem from his point of view is that the embryo does not have a choice. He alluded in his speech just now to the fact that of course we encourage transplants. We can donate our kidney, our liver or whatever else. We can sign a form and when we are in an accident and killed that body part can be used to save another life. We agree that is a good thing. However, the problem is, as the member opposite has observed, an embryo does not have that choice. If we assume that a person is created at conception and that person inevitably dies--because we are only talking about a situation where that person as an embryo dies--that embryo does not have the choice of creating new life.
We agree that creating new life is a good thing. As a matter of fact, it is the highest moral good that we can think of. Now, this is where the really subtle moral distinction comes in. I do not want to get into religion and that kind of thing, but I think there is a very strong feeling that those who are alive, those who are persons before birth, are the ultimate persons of innocence. In other words, if one is a person between conception and birth, all of us would agree that as a person one is morally pure in every sense.
If we take that principle and apply it to the logic that to give life in death is one of the highest goods that one can give then surely an embryo, as a person who is the ultimate in innocence, would want to choose the highest good, and that highest good is, instead of being discarded, instead of being destroyed, to be part of giving new life and new opportunity to the living.
That to me is the ultimate ethical dilemma. It is not whether life begins at conception or not. The ultimate ethical dilemma we must face in this parliament is the fact that we have to make a choice for those who cannot choose, and we have to make the right moral choice for those who cannot choose. An embryo cannot choose, but we know in its innocence that what it would do in death is want to give life.
Assisted Human Reproduction Act
Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I had in mind what I would say when I rose but listening to the hon. member across the way has changed what I wished to talk about. I will direct myself to what he said. I appreciate his sincerity but do not fully agree with him.
There are so many things we get into that could be referred to as designer fixes. By that I mean we focus on what is popular or current and tend to ignore everything else. Following the hon. member's suggestion and saying embryonic stem cell research is a potential cure all could create problems. That is the decision the House would make by passing the bill as it stands. We would go ahead with embryonic stem cell research right away without further development of adult stem cell research. Adult stem cell research would be pushed off to one side. Scientists and researchers would focus instead on embryonic stem cell research and we would miss an opportunity.
I will use an example. Some might say it is a little radical but I am trying to make a point. A lot of people are in need of organ transplants. The need often exceeds the supply. Why do we not take people who have committed serious crimes, shoot them and take their organs so we can preserve the lives of the more morally upright people who have not committed crimes? There are two reasons why we do not. First, there is the moral issue. Second, there are alternatives.
This is exactly what we are facing in the question of stem cell research. First, we are facing a moral issue. Is it right to destroy embryos so we can harvest their stem cells to find cures for diseases that may or may not be curable another way? This raises a lot of moral questions. It is not just the moral argument, as the hon. member suggested, where embryos that are not used for artificial insemination would cease to exist in any case.
Some might argue that in the tightest confines of control where there are absolute safeguards and assurances it is only by accident that an extra embryo would exist. Perhaps the people involved thought it would be needed and by happenstance it was not. Faced with an extra embryo they would ask what to do and whether it was for the greater good. An argument can be made that way. The problem is that nothing in Bill C-437 would prevent such people from saying that to be absolutely sure they had better have a lot of extra embryos in case some did not take. They would end up with a huge amount of embryos. They would be creating a supply to serve a need they created themselves.
As in the wild example I gave where there is a moral issue, there are also alternatives. There are alternatives in terms of donors. There is a shortage of supply. We need to do all kinds of things to ensure organ donors come forward. Maybe we need more education in terms of the health of people who make donations. What would be the potential future problems for someone who donates a kidney?
With regard to people passing away, there are concerns that people who are anxious might decide a bit too quickly that a person will probably not survive. They might decide to get the organs while they are fresh and before too much time has expired. These are real fears that exist in some people's minds. Perhaps we need to do more advertising to ensure people understand the shortage and the real need for organs. We could show people that making the sacrifice in one form or another could preserve a human life.
There are alternatives in the case of stem cell research. Adult stem cell research is underway to effect potential cures. Treatments are currently underway using adult stem cells. Because it is not foreign tissue it does not have the problem of rejection that we see, ironically, with organ transplants. There is real potential in adult stem cell research. All we are saying in our proposal is that we should properly explore the alternative, the one with fewer moral implications and potential health problems for recipients.
If we moved too quickly to embryonic stem cell research many people would put adult stem cell research aside. They would say it was old while embryonic stem cell research was new. They would want to focus on the new and not bother with the old. Government grants would dry up and become non-existent. There would be no move toward research. Research would wither and die. All bets would be on embryonic stem cell research and the demand for it would go up. People would be inclined to cheat and create far more embryos than needed. Embryos would be created for the pure purpose of destroying them for medical research. That is the moral question.
I am not saying that at some point we need to investigate the possibility for the greater good of mankind or to treat the living without destroying life in the process. However while we have alternatives, and we do have alternatives, we owe it to the public and ourselves to fully explore them to ensure they get an honest chance.
We are not saying we should move the issue aside indefinitely or forever. We are saying we should be given three years to make a concentrated effort to determine whether we can effect cures through an alternative, morally higher and perhaps medically safer ground. If at the end of that time evidence suggests it is not working and that embryonic stem cells have greater potential, let us move cautiously in that direction and design a bill that provides safeguards. However we should know we have exhausted the alternatives before moving onto that ground. That is a reasonable request.
The hon. member shared some ideas with us. I appreciate that. It is what we are supposed to do in this place. We are supposed to share ideas, not fight one another. There is a good mixture on both sides of the House on the issue. It is a disturbing and controversial bill on which we need to move slowly.
I will consider words of the hon. member and I trust he will consider mine. I hope everyone in the House is listening carefully to everyone's ideas. It ultimately will help us design a bill that reflects the needs and wishes of the Canadian public.