House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

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The House resumed from April 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-13, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, be read the third time and passed.

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10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate which has gone on for a very long time.

Given new found interest in the passage of this bill, I am sure that members would eagerly want to vote on it. Therefore, I move:

That the question be now put.

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10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There will now be a period of questions or comments.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast.

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10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of clarification, you stated that we would be in a period of questions or comments. Is it debate for 10 minutes, and if so, for how long?

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10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair erred in suggesting or putting forward the possibility of questions or comments.

We will proceed to debate, with interventions of 10 minutes without questions or comments.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Mississauga South.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, just for clarification, the main motion before the House is passage at third reading and members are here to speak. If members rise to ask questions or to speak on the motion that the question be now put, does that take the place of their time or their opportunity to speak at third reading? Is this similar to the process that we go through when the government proposes closure and there is an isolated debate around that motion?

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10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

No, this is not an isolated debate. We will proceed with the debate on Bill C-13, with interventions being 10 minutes without questions or comments.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Mississauga South.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the last time this bill was called was April 10. Prior to that we went through a period of report stage motions. There were many that were passed on voice votes during the debate at report stage, and several that were passed where a recorded division was requested.

I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House to request a reprinting of Bill C-13 that was returned from committee because members are now being asked for the last time to speak on Bill C-13. It would be very useful for them to see exactly what bill they are debating and what the specific provisions are.

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10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Mississauga South have the consent of the House to propose the motion?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Calgary Southeast.

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10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not pleased to speak under the current circumstances. The government House leader has effectively brought closure on this matter of great importance.

The field which we are addressing in the bill is a dynamic field of science where the facts are changing on a weekly, if not daily basis. It is rare that we can open a newspaper without seeing some startling new scientific success and discovery with respect to the potential of adult and non-embryonic stem cells.

The science in the field of non-embryonic stem cells is increasing almost exponentially. We are now in a world of potential in terms of the research and application of non-embryonic stem cells. I would suggest that this is dramatically different in concrete terms than it was when the bill was first tabled by the Minister of Health.

In that time, in the ensuing two years since the original tabling of the bill, we have yet to see a single concrete application or useful research discovery with respect to embryonic stem cells, which is explicitly authorized in the bill.

That is why this matter deserves further consideration, not to delay for the sake of delaying. I recognize fully that there are aspects of Bill C-13 which are not controversial and have broad consensual support across the political and partisan spectrum in the House. There is also consensual support across the research and ethical spectrum of opinion for provisions in the bill that seek to ban human cloning and with respect to maternal surrogacy.

However, I believe, and I have heard members of the Liberal caucus argue in the House and members of all parties suggest, that there would be overwhelming consensus to pass a bill swiftly which would incorporate the non-controversial elements such as the ban on cloning which do not raise ethical concerns.

Following the review of the draft legislation tabled by the previous health minister, that is precisely why the majority of members from all parties on the Standing Committee on Health recommended that the bill be split between those elements, including the ban on cloning, which carry broad consensual support, and those elements, particularly the authorization of embryonic stem cell research, which raise grave ethical and moral questions.

It is regretable that the government ignored the advice of its own members on the Standing Committee on Health by refusing to split the bill between those aspects which were broadly supported and those aspects which remain highly controversial because of the ethical and moral concerns in respect of creating human life in order to destroy it, which is essentially what is contemplated in the process of embryonic stem cell research.

As I say, this is a dynamic field, which is precisely why we ought to listen to those voices. Many witnesses at the health committee called for a three year moratorium or a moratorium of some reasonable period on embryonic stem cell research to prohibit this troublesome procedure and to allow us to assess the development of science in this field. This is a procedure which involves the destruction and manipulation of a unique nascent human life and which therefore offends, I believe, the ethical and moral principles upon which liberal democracies such as Canada are founded without a consequent scientific or health benefit.

There has not been a single assertion of a demonstrated scientific empirical benefit from research on embryonic stem cells.

Why then would we authorize the manipulation and destruction of a nascent life even from the utilitarian perspective given that there is no utility in that material demonstrated by scientists to this point?

That is the fundamental question which we now face. That is why many members would like further consideration of the bill unless the government is prepared to listen to the health committee and split it.

Let me point out a peculiar and strange contradiction with respect to government policy in relation to this bill. The government claims that the language in the bill would ban all forms of human cloning, both therapeutic and reproductive, and I hope that is the case. Some testimony was presented in health committee which suggested that the definition found in the bill with respect to human cloning was not sufficiently broad and was too narrow to cover all forms of human cloning.

I am not a scientist so it is difficult for me to make that assessment. However, I am a politician and I hear the government stating on the one hand that it wishes to ban both therapeutic and reproductive cloning in the bill, but currently is taking a different position at the United Nations where it has supported the ratification of a draft treaty which would explicitly ban only reproductive cloning but not therapeutic cloning. That raises serious questions for me.

If the policy of the government, as reflected in Bill C-13, were to honestly and sincerely ban all forms of cloning as it claims, then why would that the same government, in New York today as reported in newspapers across the country, be advocating in favour of the legalization of reproductive non-therapeutic human cloning?

There is a dichotomy in the government's position with respect to this issue which raises reasonable doubt as to the intent of those who drafted the relevant sections of Bill C-13 to actually ban all forms of cloning, both therapeutic and reproductive. That is why the bill requires further and closer scrutiny.

Is it really the position of the government not to ban all forms of human cloning--an odious, nightmarish procedure, which gives man the power to play God and create the kind of nightmare society that writers like Aldous Huxley imagined and described--or is it the position of the government to recognize the miracle of human life and not try to replicate it ourselves?

If the latter is the case, then why is the government today taking the position at the United Nations that we should legalize internationally,--and not just in Canada--through the instrument of a UN treaty, the cloning of human beings for so-called therapeutic purposes, a procedure which is itself grossly offensive to any thinking person from a rational ethical perspective? Why is the government taking the position that unique individual human lives should be created to offer spare parts as science experiments and replicated, each possessing an unviolable dignity, to be used in the same fashion as used cars thrown out in a junk yard?

It is deeply offensive, however that is the position of the government as reported in today's Ottawa Citizen and Southam newspapers across the country.

I would ask all members to reflect seriously on exactly what Bill C-13 says. I would ask them not to take at face value the claims being offered by the health department which do not seem to be reflected by the government at the UN negotiations today in New York.

I would also encourage members to look very closely at the false, specious, unproven assertion that there is some putative health benefit from research on human embryos which requires their production and then destruction.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

John O'Reilly Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly also want to join in on the debate on Bill C-13 at third reading, even though basically there is now a move to invoke closure on the bill.

I think we have to take some time because the bill actually does represent life itself, and the information on this technology is certainly evolving. As time goes on, there is more and more in the technology coming forward that causes us to stop and to be concerned. The intent of the bill two years ago was certainly not the technology that is available today to support it.

I think the legislation could be passed very quickly if the bill were split and the controversial items in it taken out; they are very few and I do not understand the minister's reluctance to do this.

It bothers me that a committee of the House of Commons would make recommendations that would be completely ignored by the minister.

As we looked at changing the structure of the House of Commons, something in which I have been involved in the last few years, I was looking forward to the fact that committees would actually have some relevance, that they would not be partisan and that they would not be just carrying out the wishes of the government. I thought that committees would actually follow the recommendations that come from all parties during the debate and upon listening to the various witnesses who came forward.

In looking at this particular legislation, I notice that pretty nearly all the recommendations of the committee have been ignored, not necessarily on the things we all agree with, but on the things we disagree with.

The committee conducted very extensive hearings on the draft bill. It presented 34 recommendations, some of which the member for Mississauga South recommended and brought forward and which I seconded. I thought the recommendations had some basis for and merited discussion. I am sorry to see that the minister chose not to appear before the committee or not to listen to the committee. The minister chose instead to blindly go forward without any basis in fact on the actual bill itself.

As the committee went through clause by clause at report stage, the minister basically proposed three motions that reversed all three of the committee recommendations. I think that maybe the committees of the House of Commons in the next Parliament should be re-examined, reformed and looked at in the light of their relevance. Because if the government is just going to blindly pass legislation without input from the committees, if it is not going to refer the bills to committees and then take the recommendations of expert witnesses, I find I am in a quandary about how I can support such legislation going ahead.

Mr. Speaker, you will know that it was a legislative committee which did some of the work on the anti-terrorist legislation. Many of the recommendations came forward from witnesses, some of which were questionable witnesses, the ethics counsellor and some others, but the fact is that those recommendations were taken into consideration. Changes were then made to some of the 22 pieces of legislation before that committee.

We now have a bill with 28 areas in which regulations have to be developed, and the bill itself is flawed in many instances, to say the least.

I find that this is a bill dealing entirely with what I would consider the life of a baby. Even the Minister of Health, in recommendations on when life begins, has now come out with labelling on cigarette packages which states, “Smoking during pregnancy can harm the life of a baby”. That does not say a fetus. That does not say something which does not exist. It says a baby. So on one side of its recommendations the department admits that life begins at conception, and on the other side it is saying it does not.

I find a contradiction here. I am at odds with the minister on this, because as a pro-lifer, which puts me in the “God squad” as I am told, whatever that means, it means to me that I stand up for what I believe. I do not intend to change my mind. I do not have any science to indicate that I should change my mind. Nothing has been brought forward to indicate that I am wrong, in my mind of course, as in some people's minds I am dead wrong on almost everything. That is what happens when one is in an adversarial situation with the Government of Canada and representing a large rural riding.

On Bill C-13 and the actual closure legislation that has been brought forth, it allows us an hour to debate a bill that should be debated at far greater length. Speakers should have been allowed to come forward, as the member for Mississauga South has indicated, like many groups appearing before the committee that have not been heard in Parliament and have not had their views brought forward.

Members of Parliament are uninformed about the bill. They have made up their minds based on what the minister has told them to say. I find that reprehensible in regard to the way I operate. I believe we should look at every bill, examine bills as members of Parliament, listen to all the evidence or at least have the courtesy to read the evidence, come to our own conclusions and then be judged based on our conscience as to how we in fact vote on a bill.

I was not prepared to speak on the bill this morning. I felt that it would follow its normal course. It would have a lot of debate on both sides, there would be input at third reading and I would be able to represent the views of my riding, which are, by the way, mixed. I think the views are mixed because the evidence brought forward is not evidence that in fact has reached a conclusion and it is not a basis for fact.

The difference between a disease and a syndrome is an inconclusive body of evidence. I believe that what we are dealing with here is indeed an inconclusive body of evidence. Technology changes almost hourly as laboratories do more work on reproductive technology and as people delve into the problems that come with this type of legislation, in which, as I said earlier, we deal with life itself.

We are facing a moral dilemma as to how we should deal with reproductive technologies, particularly the related research that goes with it. I believe there are medical doctors on all sides of this legislation that would allow for a difference of opinion and allow more technology to be considered. Also, not splitting the bill and not listening to the committee troubles me. I think that committees should have more input and more relevance and should be able to function separately from the House, bring back their reports and have those reports considered.

I am disappointed that the minister has chosen, first, not to appear before the committee, which I think is a travesty of justice. I think all ministers owe it to committees to appear, to put their voices forward and to explain to the committees why in fact they support a piece of legislation or why in fact they brought it forward. That bothers me.

I will conclude by saying that there are certain parts of the bill I support wholeheartedly, but there are areas that need further study and need to be looked at in their entirety, and the technology that is coming forward needs to be studied.

Therefore, I want to express my disappointment that this process has in fact been instituted by the minister.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-13 is very important. As we know, it concerns assisted human reproduction. I can understand that there are divergent opinions on this matter. I know that some members of the House oppose this project for religious or other personal reasons. I do not share their views. However, we must divide the issue and see the positive and the scientific side of assisted reproduction. As I was saying, it is not simply a religious question or a question of conscience; one very important aspect is that, with assisted reproduction, we can help families or people who truly need help.

I will give the House a little scenario. For some years now, a cluster of technological developments have made the headlines. From Dolly the sheep to the debate about cloning human embryos for therapeutic purposes, the exciting buzz of biotechnology is taking us down previously unexplored paths. The fact that today we have some ability to deconstruct matter and, to some extent, reconstruct a living being, means that we are confronted with new problems, whose extent we still do not comprehend. These new possibilities require increased vigilance and solid ethical examination, in order to ensure that we do not overstep certain boundaries. In order to do this, a new legal language, new concepts and a new political approach are required.

Over the years, many parliamentarians, including a number from the Bloc Quebecois, have exposed the legal vacuum surrounding assisted reproduction. Again and again, we have revived the debate by calling on citizens and experts to express themselves and by demanding that the federal government impose socially acceptable limits as soon as possible. Still, we must admit that it is difficult to strike a balance between a solid ethical position that respects human dignity and the need to meet therapeutic needs.

We must decide overall how we view life and what kind of technological progress we want. Society has to make some choices, and it is high time for this debate to move into the public arena, so that everyone can have their say. Recently tabled legislation on assisted human reproduction by the federal government is a good first step in stimulating this discussion and, at the same time, relaunching a social debate temporarily shelved.

I want to review the highlights of this legislation. On May 9, the Minister of Health introduced this highly anticipated legislation on assisted human reproduction. It seeks to protect the health and safety of individuals using assisted reproductive technologies to start a family, to prohibit unacceptable activities, such as human cloning, and to regulate assisted reproductive technologies and related research. The assisted human reproduction agency of Canada, which will be created under this legislation, will issue licences for research, monitor such activities and oversee the application of the legislation on assisted reproduction.

Safety must, to some extent, be ensured. In order to ensure the health and safety of those who turn to assisted reproduction, this bill stipulates that individuals thinking of donating an ovum or an embryo for assisted human reproduction or research purposes must give their informed consent in writing before any procedure. Children born through the use of reproductive material will have access to medical information on donors, but will not necessarily have access to their identity, donors being free to decide whether or not to divulge their identity.

The legislation would also prohibit unacceptable activities, such as the creation of human clones for any reason whatsoever, i.e. for purposes of reproduction or for therapeutic purposes. The legislation would also prohibit creating an in vitro embryo for purposes other than creating a human being or improving assisted reproduction procedures, creating chimeras or hybrids for reproductive purposes, providing financial inducements to a woman to become a surrogate mother, and buying or selling human embryos or providing property or services in exchange.

I would like to present an overview of the pros and cons as set out in the various arguments we have heard throughout the discussions on human cloning. The arguments of those in favour of stem cell research fall into four main categories: historical, medical, humanitarian and legal-political.

Let us begin with the historical arguments. In the 1970s, there was vocal opposition to DNA research. After the establishment of government guidelines, however, not only was there good monitoring of research, but research also led to the development of human insulin for diabetics.

As for the medical arguments, many are of the opinion that embryonic stem cell research has a huge potential for curative medicine.

Humanitarian arguments are usually advanced by associations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, based on their belief that such research is indispensable to improving the situation of those with the disease. Some experts point out that there are hundreds of frozen embryos in fertility clinics throughout Canada that have become useless, whereas they could have been used to help find treatments for such diseases as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Now for the legal-political arguments. Certain women's groups and certain legal experts argue that, in our current legal framework, the Supreme Court has been obliged, since 1988, to recognize that not only is a fetus not a human being—which civil law also acknowledges—but that it cannot be considered viable before the 20th week of gestation. Thus, if a fetus is not a human being, then tissues from it are not tissues from a human being.

Now for the arguments against. Research on human embryonic stem cells is controversial, mainly because it involves destruction of the embryo used. According to the Catholic Church, the creation of embryos for research purposes and the use of embryonic stem cells are actions contrary to the will of God, for whom reproduction must always be a conjugal act. Since the embryo is a potential human being, according to the Church it must have a special moral status. Moreover, numerous associations have expressed the fear that cloning, initially justified as a means to a cure for certain very rare diseases, will eventually become widespread and lead to the production of designer babies.

I will give a background on where we stand. The Bloc Quebecois has been studying this issue for several years; we have had major discussions and extensive debate to ensure that the bill would protect human beings, and that the use of embryos would stop short of human cloning. At the same time, certain jurisdictions must also be protected.

Now, for our party's position; we have been defending this issue and talking about it amongst ourselves for many years. We also realize that Bill C-13, if adopted, would interfere in Quebec's jurisdiction with respect to health. That is unacceptable to us.

My colleagues from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and from Drummond have done extraordinary work in the Standing Committee on Health. They tried to move amendments to ensure that Quebec's jurisdictions would be left alone, but, to no avail, since they were all lost.

For us, this is not a religious question, but a question of jurisdiction and the administration of justice. We do not want this bill to change the rules for health in Quebec. Quebec manages its own affairs quite well and we want it to stay that way. We are against this bill.