Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to participate in the debate at second reading of Bill C-47, an act respecting human reproductive technologies and commercial transactions relating to human reproduction.
We have been waiting for several years for a bill regulating the new rapidly changing reproductive technologies.
What could be considered science-fiction only a few years ago is now an ever present reality that raises basic ethical issues. This is a complex problem that requires government intervention, of course, to ensure that science continues to serve mankind and not the other way around.
This bill, which was tabled last June, results from a long process that started with the hearings of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, the famous Baird Commission named after its chair.
First demanded by several feminist organizations in 1977, this commission was finally established 12 years later in 1989. After four years of work marked by internal management problems, the resignation of four of its commissioners and, above all, an astronomical $28 million cost, the commission had heard, believe it or not, more than 40,000 witnesses. It is important to mention that no provincial government official was among these 40,000 witnesses.
The commission also looked at the work of more than 300 researchers before finally tabling in the fall of 1993 a 1,435-page report containing over 300 recommendations. So there was something to act on. But what did this government do after this report was tabled? It did not do anything except stall for a long time and act with a carelessness that is reflected in the bill before us today.
So between 1993 and July 1995, this government did absolutely nothing except say that something needed to be done. Despite the official opposition's repeated demands for more than two years, the government persisted in doing nothing. For instance, when questioned, the Minister of Health of the day used to respond with vague examples and empty promises.
Essentially, the debates went something like this. In January 1994, in response to question by a government member, the then Minister of Health stated that Health Canada was actively addressing the recommendations contained in the Baird report which could be acted on quickly. That was in January 1994.
Then, in February 1994, one month later, the Minister of Justice stated that studies were under way and that he would report back to the House in due course with the speed the urgency of the situation dictated.
In October 1994, the Minister of Health indicated that she was developing rules in this respect and that there were some jurisdictional problems. "But we are doing our job", she concluded. We know how the federal government deals with problems that arise concerning jurisdiction: it ignores provincial jurisdictions. I will come back on this later.
Still in 1994, it was a long year, in November this time, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health makes a statement to the effect that the issue was a serious, difficult and complex one, that raised controversy. In December 1994, the Minister of Health, in turn, stated that what was a complex problem back in November had become extremely complex. If nothing else, they were certainly single-minded.
In March 1995, the minister announced her intention to put forward a policy on a new reproductive technology and that clearly the government was going to act.
Act it did, in July 1995. While the House was not sitting and we were all trying to take some off, the minister imposed a voluntary moratorium on certain procedures involving new reproductive technologies, a moratorium that did not even cut it with those concerned and was mocked left and right.
In January 1996, the second last stage, the Minister of Health announced that a committee had been established to do a follow up on the infamous moratorium, which was no longer described as voluntary but interim.
This brings us to the tabling, in June, of Bill C-47, a bill that is as thin as it is vague, as my opposition colleagues have pointed out. But this bill clearly bears the stamp of the federal Liberals in terms of interference in provincial areas of jurisdiction, and the area of health in particular.
Since the Baird report was tabled, the opposition has been relentlessly asking that governments provide a framework for reproduction technologies. The Government of Quebec has already included in Quebec's basic legislation, the Code civil, a provision that will make any surrogacy arrangement absolutely null and void. This is one way of using existing tools to make new laws.
The area of health being a provincial area of responsibility, it is up to the provinces to set the standards and restrictions with respect to certain human reproduction procedures. It would have been easy for the federal government to act within its field of jurisdiction: it simply had to amend the Criminal Code so as to prohibit certain practices. This is what we wanted it to do. In this way, it would have added to the efforts of the provinces, while staying within its own field of jurisdiction.
Once again, the government had a golden opportunity to act efficiently, while respecting the autonomy of the provinces regarding this issue.
However, as we have often seen in this House, the government would rather interfere in fields of provincial jurisdiction. While it could simply have amended the Criminal Code to prohibit certain practices, such as the trade of embryos and ova, the government creates another useless national agency, which will impose standards from coast to coast, instead of letting the provinces define these standards themselves.
I also want to draw your attention to clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7, which list prohibited activities. This is very enlightening: the cloning of human embryos, it took three years to introduce a bill on this; the creation of animal-human hybrids and the fusing of human and animal zygotes or embryos, again three years to arrive at this; the implant of a human embryo in an animal or an animal embryo in a woman; the alteration of the genetic structure of germ cells; the retrieving of sperm or ova from a foetus or cadaver for fertilization or research purposes requiring it to mature outside the human body; the choosing of the sex based on non-medical criteria; ectogenesis, that is the maintaining of an embryo in an artificial uterus.
There is more. I will continue. This is very instructive. The research on human embryos after the 14th day following conception; the creation of embryos solely for research purposes; and, finally, giving or offering consideration for prohibited services.
It is also prohibited to buy or sell ova, sperm or embryos, or to barter or exchange them for goods, services or other benefits, except the recovery of costs incurred in the collection, storage and distribution of sperm, ova and embryos for other persons; and, finally, the use, without the consent of the donor, of human sperm, ova or embryos for assisted human reproductive technologies, or for medical research.
Thus, the prohibitions included in the voluntary moratorium are maintained, along with new ones.
Yet, after all these years since the report Baird was tabled, we could have expected much more rigour in this piece of legislation.
For example, when we prohibit the use of diagnostic procedures solely to ascertain the sex of the foetus, except for medical reasons, for health reasons, what health reasons are we talking about? Does that include the mental health of the mother, or are we referring to the health of the foetus or of the parents? The bill says very little on that.
Clause 7 prohibiting the use of sperm, ova or embryos for the purpose of research, donation, maturation or fertilization, specifies that the donor's consent must be obtained. One then can logically deduce that these uses would be allowed with the donor's consent. It is a prohibition without really being one. Moreover, this situation is inconsistent with some of the provisions of clause 4, which prohibits certain uses. This illustrates the lack of clarity of this bill.
However, one question arises: is it possible that lack of clarity is provided to give full scope to the national agency that will be set up shortly to control and monitor new reproductive technologies? I am afraid so. The bill is of a very general nature, and the new agency, whose members will be appointed by the federal Minister of Health, will be given free rein to develop and implement policies concerning, probably, other areas besides the new reproductive technologies and to set new national medical and health standards.
When the time comes to legislate on such an important issue, that raised basic concerns concerning the role of science in the human reproduction process, I think it is disgraceful for the federal government to see this as just another opportunity to infringe upon the areas of jurisdiction of Quebec and all the other provinces. Instead of setting up national agencies in each and every area and therefore creating useless and costly duplication, the government should consult with Quebec and all its other provincial counterparts, let them make decisions within their own areas of jurisdiction and act in its own areas of jurisdiction.
All that would be needed are a few amendments to the Criminal Code to prohibit the use of some technologies throughout Canada. Instead, the government introduces a bill for which both the justice minister and the health minister are responsible, and we know what this will entail, and creates a national monitoring agency.
One could hope that the government's only motive is to protect the health of all Canadians and Quebecers. However, it has another major motive, and I might go as far as saying a permanent motive, which is to ignore provincial areas of jurisdiction.
As a former member of Parliament once said, the government is good for us, it wants what is best for us and will do anything to get it.