Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate.
I begin by saying that I believe for one of the challenges of technological innovation, particularly in the health field, we must answer this question. Just because we can do something, should we do it and should we permit it to be done.
That is the question for us here in the federal legislature. It is also an issue that I dealt with in the provincial legislature during my time there. One of the pieces of legislation I had the privilege to introduce and carry through the Ontario legislature was the independent health facilities legislation.
Most people here probably have never heard of it. However, one of the public policy reasons for introducing that legislation was that many things were happening outside the hospitals in Ontario without the same kind of quality assurance and accountability that we had in hospital.
The reason was that technology was permitting things to be done in doctors' offices and in clinics outside the hospital that traditionally had always had to take place in hospital.
This legislation was to provide a regulatory regime that would provide public safety and quality assurance for the new technologies that were permitting things to be done outside hospital.
One of these new technologies was the whole area of reproductive technology, in vitro fertilization and so forth. To my dismay, following the passage of this legislation, the NDP government deinsured the whole area of in vitro fertilization.
The legislation, the independent health facilities act legislation, of course only applies to those services that are insured.
Therefore there is the situation occurring in Ontario and in most provinces across Canada with all the issues, ethical and moral, of cloning, sex selection, genetic manipulation; of uses for research purposes of the extra embryos, extra sperm; and sperm banks. It is an entirely unregulated environment.
There are some things that the provinces could do today if they wanted to deal with this issue as it related to uninsured services. They could move to set up regulatory regimes to begin that process.
I believe that federally we have a responsibility as well to look at these emerging issues. Much work has already been done. We know there was legislation previously tabled and I know the federal Minister of Health is planning to table legislation that will address many issues, including the issue of cloning the member has brought forward today. I think she has done the House a service in allowing us to begin this debate.
I want to make the point that I do not believe human cloning has a place in Canada. We have an effective voluntary moratorium on the use of many of these technologies. Those people with the expertise to do these things have agreed collectively that they should not do them outside a regulatory environment. It is not happening and I do not believe it will happen because they know there is legislation pending.
I say to the member and to all those who have an interest in this topic, as I do, that it is my view the legislation should be health legislation as opposed to Criminal Code. The reason I believe it should be health legislation is that this is health policy. It has to do with health issues.
Having said that, there are legal implications that I would like to put forward, those that must be considered when this kind of technology is considered.
In the test tube there is a sperm and an egg for the production of an embryo that will become a fetus, which ultimately could become a person, a baby. Who is the parent? That is one of the issues. What inheritance rights would that child have?
These issues are raised not only about that which could be produced in a Petri dish or an incubator. They are also raised because of the whole issue of surrogacy where an egg is taken from one donor, sperm from another donor and then implanted in a surrogate mother. Heaven knows what will happen in the future. We have heard it might be possible to have them implanted in a male. There could be a surrogate birth mother who is male. Does that sound impossible? Is that science fiction? Given the rapid changes in technology nothing is impossible.
We must contemplate the issues which face us in order to protect our children in the future. These are societal issues. They must be addressed comprehensively.
The issues of sex selection were dealt with in the previous bill, Bill C-47. It stated very clearly that sex selection could not be used in Canada, which I support, unless there is a very good medical reason. Some exceptions and some reasons were identified.
I know that in some cultures there is the desire to have one sex over another. I personally find it offensive that anyone would want to have a designer baby and would choose the sex of their child in advance. It would not only disturb the laws of nature, but there could also be very serious population problems on this planet if that became the norm, so I want to express my concern.
Gene therapy needs to be highly regulated. In this world in which we are living there may be in the future the opportunity to eradicate disease through gene therapy. We may be able to say that cancers can be beaten. We may be able to cure hereditary diseases through gene therapy.
These are the debates we need to have. In a regulatory environment we can do that. We need to discuss and debate these things in the appropriate forum because when we discuss these issues we also discuss our values and our beliefs. While we would like to think that our values and our beliefs are Canadian values and beliefs, we know there are some things we do not all agree upon.
The overriding public policy consideration must be the protection of those most vulnerable and the protection of our children for the future.
Something else which was addressed in the previous bill had to do with research. What kind of research are we going to permit be done with the excess embryos which are produced as a result of the extraction of eggs and the production of sperm in sperm banks?
I believe we all agree that we must ban commercial surrogacy. We must ban anyone from profiting in the trafficking of eggs and sperm. We must state very clearly that human cloning has no place in Canadian society.
We need comprehensive legislation. I know this government intends to introduce legislation hopefully in the very near future which will enhance Canadians' well-being by permitting us to make choices about their involvement with reproductive and genetic techniques. That is appropriate.
Many couples are desperate to have a child. We must understand that people want access to this technology but it must be appropriate. They must know that their choices will not include the right to do anything which is unethical or harmful to their health or to the health of their children.
I am particularly concerned that women have information about what kind of results they can expect from the use of this technology. We know that in some cases the results are questionable. We need balance to protect the individual interests of women and children.
I look forward to the legislation that will be tabled. I thank the member for bringing this debate to the House of Commons. I am pleased that I had an opportunity to participate.