Mr. Speaker, the subject of Bill C-47 is of very great importance for citizens.
Human reproduction is a topic that affects everyone, without exception, and as parliamentarians it is our duty to debate this bill in a mature and thoughtful manner.
For the very reason that the topic is both private and universal in scope, many of the issues are emotionally charged. As proof, we need look no further than the debates on abortion, assisted reproduction, protection of the foetus, contraceptive methods and genetic engineering.
These topics speak to something in all of us, because they concern our origins, our lives right now and the lives of our descendants. Think, for example, of the recent strong reactions to the case of the British woman who received fertility treatments. Against the advice of her doctors, this woman conceived eight foetuses and lost them all. The reason this story captured the world's attention is that each and every one of us reacts instinctively to the new reality of reproduction and the questions it raises. When human life is involved, all human beings react, and this is completely understandable.
In order to deal with this reality, the responsibility of elected representatives in this House is to determine the best approach to adopt in light of the scientific developments that now make it possible to influence considerably the reproduction of Canadians and of Quebecers.
In this bill, the government is proposing an approach based on the recommendations contained in the Baird Commission report. The commission thoroughly examined all related issues and even went beyond its original mandate, because the range of problems was so immense.
The bill on new reproductive technologies was placed on our legislative agenda because the voluntary interim moratorium imposed last year did not work. However, before attempting an analysis of the bill, I would like to make a few general comments which, as I see it, should precede any discussion of a bill that deals specifically with new human reproductive technologies.
All the authors, all the experts who have examined the issue of new reproductive technologies are unanimous in saying that this is first and foremost a matter of ethics, of moral and social values.
Although on the whole I do not agree with the recommendations of the Baird commission-I will get back to this during subsequent debates-I agree it has a wealth of expertise, based on the amount of testimony it heard and the number of experts that were consulted.
These experts claim they are aware of the problems raised by new reproductive techniques, problems that are not only legal, ethical or health problems. Research and development and the use of new reproductive techniques have raised national concerns that may be social, ethical, legal, medical, economic or otherwise and that are of interest to more than one level of authority.
Unfortunately, the commission concluded that the federal government should take all aspects of the issue in hand and regulate and manage them without taking into consideration the jurisdictions of the parties concerned and the reality of Quebec society. The Bloc Quebecois deplores this fact.
It is the same old story we all know. In fact, I will get back to this a little later in my speech.
So these are moral concerns above all, which I feel raises the initial question whether legislation is necessary.
The experience of France, which two years ago passed legislation that is roughly comparable to the bill before the House today, is very revealing.
France passed legislation on in vitro fertilization, prenatal diagnosis, pre-implant diagnosis and other aspects of reproductive technology.
However, it was decided to refrain for the time being from passing legislation on such sensitive issues as surplus embryos and embryo reduction.
In an article published in the magazine l' Express in February 1994, the author, Luc Ferry, discussed several problems. He noted first of all that technically assisted productive techniques are so controversial that one wonders whether it was really necessary to pass legislation to deal with such a sensitive area.
The question arises because of the complexity of the biological phenomena and the minute percentage of the population that is actually concerned.
In fact, several observers felt that since the number of cases was so small, it would have been preferable to let the courts decide on the merits of each case.
The author mentioned several problems that were difficult to regulate because of practical considerations and the issue of ethics and individual freedom. For instance, how could one actually prevent the use of prenatal diagnosis for sex selection when parents do not tell their physician the real reasons for having this done.
Another difficult situation is the one where a woman uses donor insemination to ensure that her offspring is entirely different from herself, for instance, a woman of colour, because she has experienced racism, will select a donor who is white, so that her child will not have to face certain problems.
Similarly, a woman could give birth after menopause. This possibility has caused a controversy, the reason being that nature was prevented from taking its course. But what about freedom of choice?
One might also consider the phenomena I mentioned earlier such as embryo reduction, when in order to allow some embryos to survive, the others are destroyed, and surplus embryos, when more than the requisite number is produced and then preserved for use in case the initial procedure fails.
Clearly, all these situations have a number of aspects that are not medical at all and can hardly be regulated with rigid and specific legislation. Nevertheless, they are all connected with human reproductive technologies.
So initially, we must ensure that we properly identify the scope of these problems and their complexity, before we can pass appropriate legislation.
I would now like to consider the general scope of the bill introduced by the Minister of Health. I will wait until third reading to give a detailed analysis of the bill. Today, I will broach only one subject which has even broader consequences, and I am referring to the fact that this is one more intrusion by the federal government in an area under provincial jurisdiction.
First of all, I would like to remind the House that the Bloc Quebecois has asked time and time again that the government take action in an area falling under its own jurisdiction: criminal law.
Indeed, the Bloc Quebecois believes that certain practices should be prohibited under the Criminal Code, as they are not socially acceptable to the vast majority of citizens. We had asked that practices such as the trade in ova, embryos and foetal tissue be criminalized.
In fact, the report states, on page 447, and I quote: "Commissioners are strongly opposed to commercializing human reproduction, as are Canadians generally. We heard clearly from Canadians that they are uncomfortable with any situation involving the development of reproductive technologies or services on the basis of their profit potential, particularly where only those with the means to pay can have access to them".
This is a social consensus the Bloc Quebecois agrees with.
However, we totally disagree with the situation where, in the name of federal government's power to ensure peace, order and good government, the commissioners suggest that the government have sole jurisdiction over anything having to do with human reproduction. That spoils it for us, and we strongly disagree.
To understand this conclusion, we must analyze the commissioners' reasoning. First, they state that because of the concepts and practices involved new reproductive technologies are unique. Also, the primary purpose of these techniques is to ensure procreation, with all the distinct historical, social and ethical implications that it may have.
Such logic is hard to accept. Based on the same logic, the federal government should have jurisdiction over anything occuring during the perinatal period, since birth is the final outcome of the procreation process.
The federal government would also have full jurisdiction over education, the environment, health and what not, all on the basis of uniqueness.
The fact that something is important to human beings is not a valid reason to give a level of government control over an area that does not fall under its jurisdiction. You are probably familiar with Quebec's position on the matter, which is: anything coming under provincial jurisdiction should be left to the provinces to deal with.
The reported stated further: "New reproductive technologies are, in many ways, unique in Canada's health care system, in that they are administered under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, but, because of their profound social, ethical and legal implications, raise issues that require national attention. Few individuals or families in this country are not touched in some way by new reproductive technologies".
The commissioners themselves agree that this is a societal issue relating to health.
On the one hand, as far as we know, health comes under the jurisdiction of the provinces because they are in a better position to make appropriate decisions for their people.
On the other hand, precisely because we are dealing with social values, it is obvious that this should be a provincial jurisdiction. To
act any differently would deny, once again, the existence of Quebec as a society, with all its elements and its differences.
We will not accept any such thing, it is out of the question.
There is also no question of the Bloc Quebecois supporting a bill containing provisions to establish a Canadian reproductive technologies control and monitoring agency. In our opinion, if the provinces are capable of enforcing the Criminal Code, they are also perfectly capable of making and enforcing regulations relating to health.
In fact, they already do, and the thought has not crossed the mind of anyone at the federal level to question their jurisdiction in that area. So why do it in another area?
The Bloc Quebecois squarely rejects the government's approach, whereby it will pass a statutory act instead of criminalizing unacceptable practices.
We repeatedly asked the government to amend the Criminal Code. Instead, it proposes a federal act, whose implementation will be monitored by a federal body, while applicable penalties will be imposed under the sole authority of the federal government. This is what is unacceptable.
So, instead of letting the provinces implement the act through their courts and legal staff, as is the case with the Criminal Code, the federal government totally excludes them and takes over everything that relates to new reproductive technologies.
Again, the Bloc Quebecois will say no to this new intrusion.
One year after the Quebec referendum, it is appropriate to remind the Prime Minister and his cabinet of the commitment they made to Quebecers in the heat of the federalist fervour that prevailed at the time. Quebecers were solemnly promised, and unfortunately too many of them believed it again, that federalism would be renewed, that powers would be decentralized, and that provinces would be given back the fields of jurisdiction, which are already theirs on paper.
How can we reconcile these fine promises with the bill before us today? It is impossible. Far from decentralizing, the federal government wants to get more involved in the health sector and, worse still, it wants to appropriate all future rights in this sector. This is unacceptable.
Once again, the fine rhetoric was just that, and I hope Quebecers will remember. This is yet another good example.
This bill is unacceptable because it infringes on the jurisdiction of the provinces.