Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-47, which is now at second reading. Bill C-47 is a bill respecting human reproductive technologies and commercial transactions relating to human reproduction.
New human reproductive technologies raise many concerns and questions, primarily with respect to the technologies per se. Their development, use and commercialization is growing at a rate that even the main players involved can hardly sustain.
But these concerns are even more troubling, from a social and ethic point of view, when we try to determine what the balance should be between the use of these reproductive technologies and human beings' control over their bodies, which technologies are morally acceptable and which are not, and to what extent they may be used by researchers and infertile couples.
Also, as this exponential growth in genetic medicine and new reproductive technologies, or NRTs, is taking place, a dwindling birth rate is causing some concern and prompting more and more people to turn to these technologies, which emphasizes the urgent need for a framework governing this developing sector.
What kind of framework is required? That is the question we must ask ourselves as we consider this bill.
Many organizations dealing with NRTs and the official opposition as well have pressed the federal government to do the responsible thing and table amendments to the Criminal Code. In response to these various questions, on June 6, the Minister of Health introduced Bill C-47 and a regulatory scheme dealing with NRTs.
Again, this government is proving unable to stick to what was recommended in terms of criminalizing certain procedures. True to itself, it is trying once again, with its proposed regulations, to encroach on exclusive provincial jurisdictions.
Bill C-47 answers but a fraction of the numerous questions raised by this growth sector. It prohibits a number of human reproductive technologies and genetic manipulations as well as commercial transactions relating to human reproduction.
Under these provisions, 13 human reproduction and genetic engineering techniques are now prohibited. Of these, eight were already subject to so-called voluntary moratorium, where those who keep pushing the limits of these technologies further and further were in charge of ensuring that such procedures no longer be used. Needless to say that this voluntary moratorium was a total failure.
The government has always been lax on the issue of new technologies; that is nothing new. As early as 1977, a Canadian coalition of feminist groups asked that a royal inquiry commission be set up immediately to study the impact and the regulations of new reproductive technologies. According to the coalition, it was essential and urgent to hold a debate on the progress made in the use of these technologies and to regulate them. This was in 1977, almost 20 years ago.
The inability of the federal system to adapt and to improve things was once again demonstrated, since we had to wait 12 years before the federal government would listen and finally pretend to act. Twelve years passed. Finally, on April 3, 1989, the government announced, in a speech from the Throne, that a commission of inquiry would review new reproductive technologies and their impact. Twelve years during which there was neither act nor guidelines to regulate a scientific sector that was evolving by leaps and bounds. Twelve years during which everything was allowed in
the name of humanity and science. This is scary, considering that the world's worst atrocities were often committed in the name of humanity and science.
The Baird commission, named after its chairperson, was supposed to complete its work in two years, but finally tabled its final report in November 1993. During these years, the commission heard over 40,000 witnesses and reviewed the works of more than 300 researchers from all over the world. This exercise ended up costing close to $30 million. Incidentally, not one province was consulted at the time of the Baird commission.
In its final report, which required incredible dedication, the commission made 293 recommendations to the federal government. These range from restricting certain practices to completely prohibiting others, such as paying surrogate mothers and selling ova and sperm.
The conclusions and the main recommendations are somewhat similar to those of similar studies conducted abroad, including the Warlock report, released in Great Britain, in 1980. However, the Baird commission also made recommendations beyond the scope of its initial mandate, going as far as dealing with issues as varied as the effect of tobacco and drug use, health and safety in the workplace, family law and civil responsibilities.
But regardless how good a report is, nothing will change if there is no political will on the federal government's part to take the necessary action to correct a situation. This is precisely what is happening with the new reproductive technologies.
After ten years of public debate, after a royal inquiry commission spent four years, at a cost of close to $30 million, to produce a huge report of over 1275 pages and to make 293 recommendations to the federal government, and after experts from Health Canada and the Department of Justice spent over two years reviewing the report, the government was still not prepared to make a move in 1993.
However, in May of 1994, the Minister of Justice said a bill would be introduced in the fall of that year. The answer came over a year after the minister's statement and, far from being the promised bill, it was in the shape of a so-called voluntary moratorium imposed by the former health minister, in July 1995.
This moratorium, with its contradictory tag of "voluntary", asked the principal players in the field of new reproductive technologies to refrain from certain practices, which I will enumerate for you: preconception contracts, in which a woman is paid to be a surrogate mother; the sale or purchase of human ova, sperm or embryos; the selection of a child's sex without a medical reason; free in vitro fertilization for women unable to afford this service in exchange for ova; the alteration of human genetic material present in ova, sperm or embryos and its transmission to a subsequent generation; experimentation to maintain an embryo to term in an artificial uterus; the cloning of human embryos; the creation of hybrids of humans and animals; the use of ova from foetuses or cadavers to produce babies or for research purposes.
A voluntary moratorium on these practices was outrageous. Greeted with absolute indifference, this moratorium was a bald admission of the Liberal government's complete lack of vision in this area.
The former minister herself said that these new technologies were unacceptable, that they threatened human dignity and raised serious social, ethical and health questions, in addition to relegating procreation, women and children to the status of mere commodities. And the response was a voluntary moratorium.
It would allow the main stakeholders in the field of new reproductive technologies the freedom, however, to decide whether or not to continue with what they were doing. In this field, where science is evolving so quickly that even specialists are having trouble keeping up, the main stakeholders were going to be both judge and judged. And during all this time, when the sheep were being guarded by the wolves, the wolves were looking out for themselves and expanding their activities, without a worry in the world.
It is hard to believe, when we look at the pathetically insignificant action taken, that this voluntary moratorium was designed to do anything more than mislead the public into thinking that something was being done.
Less than six months after the moratorium was imposed, and faced with criticism and warnings about the predictable ineffectiveness of these measures, the government had a brilliant idea: create an advisory committee-another one; when they no longer know what to do, they create advisory committees, they create agencies charged with overseeing the advent of new reproductive and genetic technologies and advising the deputy minister of health on the extension of the moratorium to practices other than those initially targeted.
In other words, this committee had no authority to enforce the moratorium because the moratorium was voluntary, and reported infractions observed not to the government but to the deputy minister of health. As though anyone at the health department needed a committee to tell it what everyone knew already, which was that the voluntary moratorium was not putting a stop to anything, and that the situation, far from improving, was taking a turn for the worse.
A striking example of just how bad the situation was becoming was an advertisement placed in a University of Toronto student newspaper last January. This classified ad was for a white woman between the ages of 23 and 32 who would be willing to sell her ova. Although no specific amount was mentioned, we know that such
transactions can turn to about $2,000 or more. This ad caused a general uproar among the public, both in Quebec and Canada.
The uproar was not about to die down, because a similar ad published at Wilfrid Laurier University promised financial compensation, not for the sperm collected, since there is a moratorium on this, but to pay for the time and travel expenses of the generous donor. Needless to say, this ad was intended as a direct attack on the voluntary moratorium requested by the Minister of Health at the time.
Following these disturbing ads in student newspapers at universities, the former Minister of Health said she was upset and very concerned about the fact this was being done commercially and that women and children were more or less being treated as merchandise. She announced a bill that would contain vigourous measures-she said in a matter of weeks-to prevent trafficking in sperm and human ova. This was on January 16, 1996.
In any case, the government managed to table a bill on new reproductive technologies. There will be two stages. Bill C-47, which defines prohibited procedures, and later, regulations that will be added to the bill. Here, we say to improve Bill C-47.
After many years of waiting and statements by the federal government that it would do its duty with respect to NRT, we expected the bill to be far more thorough and comprehensive than is the case with Bill C-47, introduced by the Minister of Health.
This bill is an admission by the government that the voluntary moratorium requested in July 1995 was a failure. Bill C-47, in that it recycles provisions that were already part of the moratorium and adds a few new provisions, may be seen as a more forceful version of the existing moratorium.
We will take a closer look. In section 1-