Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves: the children who were born and who will be born from the use of new reproductive and genetic technologies.
Most medical treatments involve only individuals who consent to bear the benefits and burdens of the treatment. Assisted reproduction techniques such as donor insemination and in vitro fertilization are different. There are the interests of another party to consider, those of the children who will be born through their use.
As a society we sympathize with those who are infertile and wish to help them reach their goals at having a child. But we must not forget that we have to consider more people than just those suffering from infertility.
The health and well-being of children must be of paramount importance in the decisions we make about new reproductive and genetic technologies. The value of children in our society is self-evident but it is important to state firmly and unequivocally that children are not a means to an end. They are of value not because of the great gifts they possess, not because of the way in which they fulfil their parents' dreams and not even because of the joy they bring to their parents. Children are of value merely because they exist, because they are.
This government does value children. It believes that the hallmark by which our society can be judged is the priority that is placed on the interests and well-being of children. The government has established a transparent and explicit framework for its policy on new reproductive and genetic technologies.
Concern for children's interests is the vital aspect of that framework. The government also approaches the issue of children and new reproductive technologies from the perspective of a need to protect those who are vulnerable to adverse consequences of these technologies. And who indeed is more vulnerable in our society than a child?
New reproductive and genetic technologies affect children in different ways. Some practices and procedures have consequences so adverse and so easily apparent that prohibition is the only possible response. The consequences of other uses of technology, adverse or otherwise, are less obvious, or they are controllable through policy regulation. These include implications of the technologies for children's physical health, both immediately and in the long term, and the implications for children's emotional well-being. In cases where donated sperm or eggs are involved, new reproductive and genetic technologies also raise serious issues about the legal status of children.
The government by putting forward this legislation is proposing that some practices and procedures are so important for various reasons that there is no alternative than to prohibit them and to set criminal penalties for their use. Practices that turn children into commodities to be bought and sold are among them.
That is why for instance this legislation makes it a criminal offence to buy or to sell human sperm or eggs. Sperm and eggs are the building blocks of human life. To make them into commodities subject to the conditions of the market is to commodify children and to turn them into products. This is ultimately dehumanizing. It will affect in the long term the way we as a society value children and how we value human life.
Permitting payment for sperm and eggs also increases the possibility of health problems for the children who might be born as a result of these donations. Studies have shown that when a donation is made for payment, donors have less reason to be honest about the state of their health and about their genetic family history.
One study found much higher instances of HIV-positive donors among those who were paid than among those who donated on a purely voluntary basis. Men or women in financial need may be less likely to consider the welfare of others in responding to this financial incentive.
Commercial surrogacy arrangements go even further along this road to the commodification of children. Instead of sperm or eggs changing hands for money, it is a live baby. Those involved in the practice will assert that it is not the baby that is being sold but rather the reproductive services of a woman. Commercial surrogacy is simply the practice of paying a woman to give up her baby. We do not permit human beings to be bought and sold in any other context and it is an insult to children to allow this to continue.
I have heard from a significant number of constituents in my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants regarding the issue of reproductive technology. Many constituents have written to my office or spoken with me personally on this matter. They have consistently expressed opposition to the commercial use of reproductive technologies. Our government has listened to these concerns and through this legislation it is responding.
This government is determined to remove the profit motive from pregnancy and birth. It has accordingly prohibited anyone from paying or offering to pay anyone to surrender a child or from acting as an intermediary in such an arrangement.
The prohibition on cloning is also justifiable in terms of its impact on the health of children. We simply do not know the health implications of creating large numbers of genetically identical people, either for individual children or for the population as a whole. The use of fetal eggs to create a human embryo could be harmful if they are from a miscarried fetus, since genetic disorders are one of the most frequent reasons for early miscarriage.
Practices such as commercial surrogacy arrangements, buying and selling of sperm or eggs, cloning, or using reproductive material from fetuses or dead people have no place in a society that claims to value children. The physical health of children can be severely affected in the short term by the use of new reproductive and genetic technologies for the simple reason that their use increases the likelihood of multiple births.
For example, 30 per cent of deliveries from in vitro fertilization are multiple: twins, triplets or even quadruplets. These babies are at a high risk of being born prematurely and of having a low birth weight. This can mean problems ranging from cerebral palsy and poor eyesight to short attention span and poor learning skills as these children grow up. In fact, Canadian and American studies have found that 20 to 25 per cent of low birth weight babies suffer from a form of serious disability and will continue to need attention and care in varying degrees for much of their lives.
Other health effects of new reproductive technologies just simply are not known right now. They will not become apparent until enough children are tracked through the various developmental stages until they reach adulthood. This is why the advent of new technologies has to be treated with such caution.
Children are our country's most valuable asset. Our recognition of their value is found in Canada's signature on the United Nations declaration on the rights of children. They are so vulnerable to the decisions made by adults. Concern for children's health and well-being requires that their interests be a priority in making decisions about new reproductive and genetic technologies. The legislation before the House today has taken that perspective.
The government has prohibited activities that, by commercializing reproduction and reproductive materials, make children into commodities, products for sale on the market. It has prohibited activities whose impact on the future health of children is harmful. It has in other measures proposed to set in place mechanisms to ensure that all new reproductive and genetic technologies that are offered in Canada are provided with the interests and needs of children paramount so that children are treated with the care and respect that they deserve.