Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-47, an act respecting human reproductive technologies and commercial transactions relating to human reproduction.
This bill, which follows the voluntary moratorium on certain reproductive technologies proposed by the Liberal government in July 1995, is the result of the deliberations of the Baird Commission, which worked from 1989 to 1993, and whose mandate was to inquire into and report upon current and potential medical and scientific developments related to new reproductive technologies and their health repercussions.
The commission was also requested to study the ethical, social, economic and legal consequences of these new technologies in order to recommend what policies and safeguards should be applied.
The main conclusions and recommendations of the Baird Commission were in line with other studies done elsewhere in the world on the same subject. However, several recommendations are problematic because they do not respect Canada's unique situation, specially with regard to the constitutional distribution of powers.
Several recommendations the federal government would like to implement affect areas under provincial jurisdiction such as health, family law and civil liability, which could be a problem.
This bill was meant to be-and I said was-the government's response to society's concerns about scientific advances in the area of human reproduction and the possible use of these technological innovations for questionable commercial or scientific purposes.
But it proves to be a belated and incomplete response to public concerns. Since the report of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies was made public in November 1993, the Liberal government has dragged its feet on the matter.
It was not until July 1995, more than two and a half years after the Baird report was tabled, that the government took a first step to put the brakes on the unbridled growth of the reproductive technology industry by proposing a temporary voluntary moratorium.
The Bloc Quebecois along with several newspaper editors, former members of the Baird Commission, including Patricia Baird, interest groups, including groups representing women and the clergy, criticized the fact that the moratorium was voluntary, since some physicians and clinics continue to provide services banned by this moratorium, which the government cannot or does not want to enforce.
Last January, the federal government announced the creation of a temporary advisory committee, whose mandate was to enforce the moratorium.
That did not prevent a newspaper from advertising for young women to sell their ova to infertile couples; institutions from continuing to pay sperm donors; doctors from retrieving sperm from deceased husbands on the request of their widows. To help you understand what is meant by the expression "new reproductive technologies", I will give you a list of a few activities which were carried out and are still being developed because the government's moratorium is only "voluntary": contracts in which surrogate a mother is paid to carry a child she will give up to her customers after delivery; trade in human ova, sperm and embryos; child gender selection for non medical reasons; free in vitro fertilization for women who cannot afford it in exchange for ova; alteration of the genetic material of an ovum, sperm or embryo and its transmission to a subsequent generation; experiments on bringing babies to term in artificial wombs; duplication or cloning of human embryos; production of human and animal hybrids; use of ova retrieved from cadavers or foetuses to give birth to babies or for research purposes.
There seems to be a consensus in our society on the fact that these technologies give rise to ethical, moral, social, economical and legal problems and that they must be controlled.
Canadians and Quebecers concerned by the situation think that it is about time the government began to do something. However, they are still worried to see that it does not seem to know exactly in which direction it is going.
Indeed, the government itself admitted that Bill C-47 was incomplete and temporary. It does not reflect a comprehensive vision of the issue and only confirms some prohibitions included in the moratorium while waiting for another bill that would complete the legislation.
In addition, even though this bill meets the demands of the official opposition with respect to criminalizing certain practices, the federal government is not amending the Criminal Code, enforcement of which would fall to the provinces. On the contrary, it is proposing parallel legislation that paves the way for the creation of a federal agency to monitor new reproductive technologies. Another federal agency.
Thus, the primary object of the bill is not to criminalize practices deemed unacceptable by society, but rather to set up a federal agency to monitor new reproductive technologies.
A good example of this barely concealed goal of concentrating all the power at the federal level is clause 11 of the bill, which says that the Attorney General of Canada must give his consent before a prosecution for an offence under this Act may be instituted. This just shows that the federal government does not wish to co-operate with the provinces. This will complicate enforcement of the legislation, since hospitals, for one, come under provincial responsibility.
This new federal agency to monitor new reproductive technologies would be responsible for granting licences, inspecting clinics and enforcing regulations, and would also be called upon to oversee the development of reproductive technologies and to advise the federal health minister in this regard.
It would be responsible for granting licences for practices considered acceptable. These technologies could include, for example: in vitro fertilization; donor insemination; use of foetal tissue; preservation, manipulation and donation of human ova, sperm and embryos; research on embryos; diagnostic testing on a foetus before it is implanted in the uterus; late life or postmenopausal pregnancy.
As well, this agency would set up a data bank on donors and children of donors in order to allow future meetings in certain special cases. But a serious oversight in this bill is that it does not define how, by what mechanism, approval would be refused. Somehow, we do not know when, this will be done in a later phase of the supposed federal strategy.
There is also a problem in clause 2 of the bill. Its definitions of certain technical terms do not correspond to their medical definitions and a number of terms are missing from the list. This will sustain endless legal debates when this legislation deals with the first offences. It seems to me that as parliamentarians we have a responsibility not to pass laws without knowing whether or not they can be enforced.
In the case before us, we have every reason to believe that the federal government, because it does not wish to co-operate with the provinces, will have to acquire additional policing and legal structures in order to be able to enforce its law. The federal government will have to deploy considerable resources in order to oversee hospitals, research centres and private companies in all provinces.
Apart from the fact that once again the federal government is interfering in the field of health, which, according to the Constitution, comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces, the creation of this agency promises to be costly and a source of duplication, resulting in delays and inefficiency.
As well, seeing the federal government's inability to apply or obtain compliance for its moratorium on certain reproductive technologies, there are doubts about its ability to enforce its legislation without the support of the provinces, which in their capacity as the administrators of health systems, are in the best position to act.
The confusion we see in this government is reflected in its bill, and it is astonishing that it deals with reproductive techniques, commercial operations, and genetic manipulations on the same footing. It would have been appropriate to make a clear differentiation between assisted procreation, basic research and commercial ventures.
On the one hand, there is the issue of the provision of legitimate care and treatment to people who are merely trying to create life in order to establish a family, but who are unable to do so without the assistance of medical science to overcome the obstacles nature has placed in their way.
On the other hand, there is the issue of medical or scientific research in genetics, perhaps with praiseworthy intent, but raising serious ethical issues, the first of these being whether the end justifies the means, and whether, consequently, all manner of manipulations of living matter may be permitted provided they are for the good of humanity.
Finally, there is the commercial aspect, relating to the sale of products created using the latest scientific techniques, if the word "product" can be used when transmitting life is involved. In our health system, which is public and accessible to all, the underlying concept is still the provision of medical care and services to the public.
Private enterprise can benefit from participation in the provision of this care, but it is difficult to stomach the idea of strictly commercial operations, the principal purpose of which would be profit, without throwing our entire system open to re-examination. The idea of selling human beings, which became obsolete when slavery was abolished, must not be allowed to be revived.
You will have readily understood that the new reproductive techniques can be applied to completely different areas, and that it would be dangerous to liken them without distinction. Yet this is what the government has done. After its initial slowness, now it is acting precipitously and in an atmosphere of confusion.
It is ironic to note that the federal government is creating a new structure to control reproductive technologies, while the successive cuts being applied on the federal level to health transfers, which are disguised under the lengthy title of Canada Health and Social Transfer, have had the effect of placing the provinces in a difficult situation as far as health care funding is concerned.
How can the Liberal government, which is cutting health financing, force new national standards on the provinces for reproductive technologies, which they will have to apply, subject to financial penalties, without even consulting them on the content of those standards, while at the same time imposing a major cut in financing? The explanation is that this government wants to centralize at all cost, and the federal minister want to control everything in order to have greater powers.
This rigid approach, which brings more federal standards and less financing, shows clearly enough that expressions like "flexible federalism" or "profitable federalism" have become futile and outdated.
The whole approach of this bill shows that the health of Canadians and Quebecers is not a priority for this government. Its priority is to control everything from Ottawa and to centralize in an atmosphere of confrontation. Co-operative federalism is gone, welcome to the Liberal kingdom of Plan B.
There are numerous reasons why the Bloc Quebecois cannot support this bill. It is incomplete and does not contain an appropriate definition of the goals of the act and responsibilities for its implementation.
Second, this bill does not amend the Criminal Code as the Opposition had asked, which complicates its implementation. Third, it creates a federal agency in the area of health, which is a provincial jurisdiction, and tries to impose national standards, which will cause more jurisdictional disputes. Finally, this bill imposes national health standards.