Mr. Speaker, during the last session I had the opportunity to address the House on what was then Bill C-56. Now I have the opportunity to continue to address this important piece of legislation which is now Bill C-13.
The number of the legislation has changed, but the concerns have not changed. Given that the legislation, when enacted, will govern human biological technology development for perhaps the next 50 years, the government's lack of care, caution and ethical integrity is both astounding and frightening. We know that the legislation goes right to the heart of the issue of what it means to be a human being and the relation of a human being to the state.
It is arguably the most important piece of legislation the House will ever deal with. Members of the official opposition have been mindful of this fact and I would like to acknowledge their hard work, especially on the health committee, in this regard.
The notion of what it means to be a human being sounds quite lofty and academic, but let us accept the fact that the bill is about children, about how people can be assisted in conceiving and having healthy children and about ensuring ethical technology around this important endeavour.
I last spoke about the issue of using adult stem cell research instead of the ethical minefield of embryonic stem cell research. The official opposition supports the bill's ban on cloning. We also support the ban on commercial surrogacy. However, this time I would like to keep my address to just two other important issues, first, the issue of the agency created by the bill and second, the identity of the rights of children born of such technologies. Indeed, the creation and responsibilities of the agency take up half the text of the bill itself and the identity rights of children created through these technologies is given precious little consideration.
The official opposition supports the creation of an agency to oversee any technology related to the assisting of people having healthy children. However there are problems with the relationship of the agency, parliamentarians and the public at large, just to name a few.
There are no provisions in the bill for regular reports by the agency to Parliament, but the agency itself will not be independent. Just like a government department, it will write its own performance evaluation. We know that many of the regular governmental department performance reports are rarely worth very much.
Another problem is that a minister of the crown can at any time give an order to affect any of the agency's powers. This is despite the fact that regulations must be laid before Parliament and can be referred to committee. This is not accountability; it is another expansion of ministerial power and the diminishment of accountability to Parliament.
Another problem is that the configuration of the agency falls under orders in council. That is a problem. We have all the usual concerns regarding this type of governance. Experience has taught us that the government does not have a stellar reputation in this regard.
What will be the ethical framework of the board of directors and the president of the agency? We know their mandate is to foster the application of ethical principles in relation to assisted human reproduction. I have no doubt that they will be scientifically and legally well informed individuals, but how much confidence will the public have if the appointments for such issues as life and death are made by orders in council? My guess is that ethicists will be add-ons to the list of what we call experts and stakeholders. The ethicists' role is crucial, but the government would be hard pressed to recognize an ethicist even if it fell over one. It is a telling sign of the times that we even have ethicists on call to help us with these complex issues.
It is lamentable that we cry “Canadian values”, and then fail miserably sorting out good and evil, necessary and unnecessary, and conflict of interest. What was once understood and recognized as being right and true has deteriorated into a collision of group rights versus individual autonomy. Ethics are based on longstanding tried and true principles, not on day to day polls on human values. It is no less true in the legislation.
We also demanded that any recommendations by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health should be considered seriously by the health minister. We know that the government likes to put most issues of process and accountability out of the reach of parliamentarians and the public through the creation of a myriad of bureaucratic regulations. However, the official opposition demanded that any regulations affecting the health of unborn children be referred to the health committee.
Regulations are only as good as they are achieved by consensus. That consensus includes the Canadian people through their elected representatives. Such consensus cannot be achieved in the dark by ministerial fiat.
These demands from the official opposition in no way undermine the research and science on this issue. The official opposition always supports the goal of health and well-being for Canadians.
As for the rights of the children conceived by the assistance of sex technologies, the goal is still healthy children, remembering that we have come a long way in the medical advancements for physical well-being of children. However, it has always been my contention that the bill does not deal with that other part of our lives that is so important to us. That is our identity.
Life is more than just physical well-being. It is important that the environment for children is both safe and loving and that the parents of children born through these technologies receive the best care in part because of the great effort taken to have them created. However, there is something more. It is our human connectedness to the past.
Many adoptive parents in Canada go a long way to ensure that their children know their heritage if it is different from the non-biological parents. Why do they do that? Because they realize the importance of culture and history as well as the biological roots.
We have whole sections of our society stratified according to their birth and heritage in order for certain rights and privileges. Whole government departments are dedicated to a section of our society because we recognize the importance of history.
Genetic and biological parental identity apparently is important to the government for particular groups of people, such as the aboriginal community, but for anyone with the assistance of this technology, the identity of the biological parents is not allowed to be considered as important. This bizarre and inconsistent policy, I believe, amounts to the commodification not of the child but instead the donors of sperm and ovum.
Sperm and ovum are called reproductive material in the bill. Yes, this material is the constituent entity of the continuation of human life, but we know and celebrate that human life is also the intricate web of relationships, cultures and histories.
We cannot nor do we want to escape the physical reality that there is a mother and a father to every human being who walks this earth. Children conceived by these technologies should have the opportunity to know who their mother and father are.
This is why we on this side of the House do not agree with the anonymity of human reproductive material. Anonymity degrades and commodifies such natural material. In fact, the United Nations recognizes the right for all children to know their biological identity and yes, that means the identity of the mother and the father, whether through birth or what they call “other status”. If the traditional adoptive processes of this nation are starting to recognize the importance of identity, why does this legislation not?
Donating sperm and ovum is not the same as handing over a child. The psychological impact of the two cannot be compared. Donations of human reproductive materials can result in hundreds of children with similar genetic heritage.
I am sure that members from all parties would agree with the United Nations on this particular issue of the right to identity for all human beings. Anonymity should not be an option. The fear is that the supply of donors will decrease dramatically.
Yes, we will no longer get university medical students or will we get donors of sperm compliments of the U.S. prison system. Instead we will get more mature adults who understand the plight of those wishing for a healthy child. The motivation is on completely different grounds. Sweden and New Zealand have both moved to a known donor system. We know that it can be done.
This biological material is not like a pint of blood or a kidney or a heart that means life to a patient. We are all somebody's child and so should those be who are conceived through this technology.