Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the subject of human reproduction and the genetic technologies act. This bill is very timely. Research is advancing at an unprecedented rate. We do not yet know the limits of our own research and perhaps we do not know even if there are any limits at all.
The ethical questions raised by our accelerating knowledge are enormous. Just because we are now able to do something, does that mean we should do it? Clearly there are ethical limits to our activities and our answers to these ethical questions will define our society since they deal with the very definition and determination of life.
The commission itself has noted that this issue has moral implications for Canadian society. It is important therefore that all of us put aside our partisanship, study these issues with the sincerity that is deserved and bring our most deeply held beliefs and those of our constituents to bear.
In my own case, as a Christian, I believe that life is a gift of God. While animal and vegetable life are wonderful, beautiful, valuable and necessary life forms, human life is something more. It is distinct, it is different. That is why all people are special and human life must be treated with special dignity. To be human is to be noble. It is a thing of high honour. We are not worthy of that dignity because of utility, because of what we can do or how well we can communicate, or how strong, or how smart or how useful to society we are; humanity is in and of itself a priceless identity.
It is no wonder that the commission wrestled so strenuously with these reproductive issues, since the technology and practices covered in this bill, for example, have spiritual, moral, as well as economic, scientific and social consequences. Perhaps that is why it entitled its report "Proceed with Care".
Since this is the second reading debate I would like to identify the principle of the bill and take a position on it. I would also like to identify two major objections to the bill in its present form in the hope that these will be remedied in committee or by subsequent legislation.
On the content of the bill, clause 4 expressly prohibits 11 listed procedures referred to by some authorities as NRGTs or new reproductive and genetic technologies. These include the cloning of human embryos, the transfer of embryos between humans and other species, the creation of animal-human hybrids, genetic manipulation and the taking and either implanting or fertilizing sperm or eggs from cadavers or fetuses. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 of the bill expressly prohibit two other activities impacting on human reproduction, namely the commercialization of surrogacy arrangements and the buying and selling of eggs, sperm, zygotes, embryos or fetuses.
My first objection is that not all 13 activities proscribed by the bill are of the same order or deserve to be subject to the same prohibitions. For example, there will be legitimate debate in scientific quarters as to whether all of the 11 procedures listed in clause 4 should be subject to a blanket prohibition or whether some of the proscribed activities should be allowed to proceed under strict scientific controls for the sake of increasing our understanding of human life and enhancing its proper development.
It is also apparent that those activities listed in clauses 5 and 6 relating to surrogate mothers and providing the prerequisites for in vitro fertilization are qualitatively different from the activities covered by clause 4. They should, therefore, be subject to a different form of regulation so as not to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of childless couples and their doctors seeking to improve the couples' chances of having children. In other words, I am saying that the bill should be split, that the subject matters of clauses 5, 6 and 7 should be dealt with in a different manner from the activities proscribed in clause 4.
The broad principle of the bill before us is to bring all the described activities under regulation by law. This principle of regulation by law is one which I support and I would urge my colleagues to support it as well.
As I said earlier, we are dealing here with the very building blocks of human life. We are not dealing with property. We are not dealing with inanimate matter. We are dealing with human life.
While I and my party are great believers in the marketplace, I do not believe that marketplace mechanisms are appropriate mechanisms for governing technologies and procedures for the reproduction of human life. None of us believes that human beings should be bought and sold, although there was a time when European and American law tolerated such practices and such transactions were governed by market mechanisms.
The most basic principles of Canadian law and Canadian society condemn and prohibit any trafficking in human life. I would not like to see those principles violated by now permitting unregulated market forces, the impersonal play of supply and demand, to regulate reproductive or genetic altering practices.
At the same time, most of us in the House have great respect for science and the managerial and peer group assessment processes which govern scientific activity. We are also well aware that self-regulation of the development and application of new technologies by science is not without danger and in the past has been insufficient to prevent gross misuse of technologies such as nuclear and germ warfare technologies, destructive to human life.
As history has shown, science can be counted on to ask of technology can we. It cannot always be counted on to ask should we. If the scientist out of moral conviction does answer the question should we, and the answer is no, science does not have the capacity to ensure that no means no.
For these reasons science itself cannot stand as the sole regulatory gatekeeper of new reproductive and genetic technologies. I therefore suggest that regulation of the reproductive technologies and genetic altering practices identified in the bill cannot be left to unregulated market forces or to the good intentions of the science community but must be made subject to regulation by law. This is the basic principle of the bill for which I would urge qualified support.
The second objection to this bill is more substantive. While agreeing with the principle that the reproductive technologies and genetic altering practices referred to in this bill should be subject to regulation by law, I do not believe that this should be regarded as synonymous with direct regulation by the government.
The preamble of the bill states that the Parliament of Canada acknowledges the health and ethical dangers inherent in the commercialization of human reproduction. The Parliament of Canada should also acknowledge that there are health and ethical dangers in direct state regulation of reproductive and genetic technologies. Historically, the greatest abuses of reproductive technologies and genetic research have not been perpetrated by private enterprise for commercial reasons; they have been perpetrated by governments for ideological and political purposes.
The most frightening example of such atrocities is of course the Nazi regime which conducted genetic experiments in the name of racial purity, in the hope of creating a super race. Experiments in the former Communist bloc and even by well-intentioned governments throughout the western world testify to the dangers when the state is allowed to play the role of God.
Unfortunately the enforcement and regulatory section of this bill is very rudimentary and incomplete. It is the weakest part of the entire bill. It calls for offences under the act to be determined by inspectors designated by the minister and calls upon the courts to impose fines or terms of imprisonment in respect to offences under the act. The governor in council is empowered to make regulations for carrying out the purposes and provisions of this act.
We have no confidence that this rudimentary regulatory regime is adequate for the purposes of the act and are convinced that it is not adequate to prevent abuses of reproductive technologies and genetic altering practices by the state itself. It is our understanding that this bill is to be followed soon by another statute specifically outlining a better form of regulation. Our recommendation would
be that regulation of these technologies by law be assigned to a quasi-judicial regulatory tribunal acting at arm's length from the government itself.
In summary, I would therefore urge hon. members to support the bill in principle, the principle being that the practices described in this bill should be subject to regulation by law.
Second, I urge members to support the splitting of the bill so that technologies and practices immediately applicable to assisting childless couples to have children are dealt with separately from the other practices prohibited by this bill.
Third, I urge members to recognize that total state control over the technologies described in this bill could be as dangerous to Canadians as unfettered commercialization and that regulation of such activities should be entrusted to a quasi-judicial regulatory body at arm's length from the government.
I must add that my support in principle does not imply support for any subsequent bill setting out this regulatory framework. Unless such a bill spells out adequate safeguards against abuse of power by the state as well as by the marketplace or by scientific researchers, we will be obliged to oppose it at that time.
I trust that these observations will be helpful to other hon. members. I look forward to their contributions in the debate, as the secretary of state mentioned earlier, on this very grave and serious matter.