The member for Laval Centre, Mrs. Dalphond-Guiral, seconds the motion.
I am happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-247, the purpose of which is to amend the Criminal Code. We are dealing with genetic manipulation, but to be more precise, the purpose of the bill is to have the Criminal Code prohibit cloning of human beings.
I am particularly proud because I sponsored Bill C-247. I would also like to thank my colleague from Laval Centre for seconding the motion.
Before I begin, I would like to read you an editorial by Ginette Gagnon of the Nouvelliste , who said:
Less than a year ago, the world was astounded to learn that a Scottish researcher had just produced the first adult animal clone, the famous Dolly. It appeared unthinkable that such genetic engineering could be used on humans. Now an American physicist from Chicago, Dr. Richard Seed, would like to defy scientific morals and open a lab to clone humans. The doctor, described as mad, will likely succeed in carrying out his project if the international community takes no action to stop him and more specifically to prohibit this practice throughout the world.
On February 27, the science magazine, Nature , published a report in which the authors described how a team of researchers succeeded for the first time in history in producing a healthy lamb from breast tissue taken from an adult sheep. It was a first. The main point was not the birth of the lamb, known as Dolly, it was the fact that human cloning was a possibility.
I will define a clone for people. What is it? The popular definition is that it is an organism, a person, an animal or a plant that is a completely identical or nearly identical copy of another organism in terms of appearance or function. On the biological level, it refers to a population of organisms, cells or genetically identical DNA molecules resulting from the asexual reproduction of a single organism.
Shortly after the news of the cloning of Dolly, we in fact learned that scientists in Oregon had cloned two monkeys from embryonic cells, a first among primates. One way or another, regardless of the techniques used, it is very easily imaginable that, with the rapid progress of recent years, human cloning may be commonplace before the end of the century.
People's concerns about the attempts to clone humans are therefore totally justified, even if no one has as yet advanced one single acceptable reason, from the ethical point of view, for performing such a manipulation. This, then, is the context in which I introduce Bill C-247.
By so doing, I have no delusions that I am putting an end to the debate on medically assisted reproductive techniques. On the contrary, I am aware that Bill C-247 does not offer a blanket response to all questions, nor is it intended to. In fact, if there is one lesson that can be learned from the evidence heard during the committee examination of Bill C-47, which dealt with the new reproductive techniques in general, it is that not all techniques can be put in the same basket, and they cannot be regulated as one whole. Each technique has its own specific characteristics, and raises specific questions and reflections which require different types of action.
I would like to review what has gone on in Canada in connection with the new reproductive technologies. The first government inquiry into the new reproductive technologies was the 1989 Baird Commission. Its mandate was to look into current and foreseeable progress in science and medicine relating to reproductive techniques, their repercussions on health and research, their moral, social, economic and legal consequences, and their impact on the general public, and to recommend policies and protective measures to be adopted.
Four years of studies, 40,000 witnesses and $28 million later, the Baird Commission tabled its report in November 1993. The main conclusions and recommendations were broadly similar to the foreign studies on this topic, in particular the Warlock report done in 1980 by Great Britain.
The federal government was slow to follow up on the report, preferring, unlike the Baird Commission, to extend the consultations to provincial governments. The Bloc Quebecois asked many questions in the House, in order to force the government to table the bill, which would criminalize certain practices related to the new reproductive technologies.
It was not until July 1995 that the government finally took concrete action, imposing a voluntary moratorium prohibiting nine reproductive techniques, including the cloning of human embryos.
The Bloc Quebecois, and a number of editorial writers, former members of the Baird Commission, including Patricia Baird, media, and interest groups, such as women's and religious groups, have criticized the voluntary nature of the moratorium, since certain physicians and clinics are continuing to perform techniques prohibited by this moratorium.
In January 1996, the federal government announced that it was creating a temporary advisory committee, with the mandate to enforce the moratorium, follow the development of new reproductive technologies and advise the minister.
As you might imagine, this purely voluntary moratorium has not been enforced. As an example, we could mention the advertisements that appeared in the University of Toronto's Varsity , offering to buy ova from young women for infertile couples.
In addition, some establishments continue to pay sperm donors, and physicians say some patients still ask them to retrieve sperm from their deceased husbands.
On June 14, 1996, the then federal Minister of Health, David Dingwall, introduced Bill C-47, along with a statement of principles setting out the federal government's proposed overall policy on management of NRTs. Bill C-47 included the techniques prohibited under the moratorium, and added certain others. It must be made clear, however, that these techniques were not made offences under the Criminal Code, and that as a result provincial authorities would not have been responsible for enforcing the law.
The second phase the federal government hoped to accomplish was to amend Bill C-47 to include a regulatory framework on all techniques of reproduction and genetic manipulation.
A national control and monitoring agency for the new reproductive technologies would have ensured application of the legislation, issued permits, inspected clinics and enforced the regulations. As well, that body would have monitored developments in NRTs and advised the federal Minister of Health in this area.
The Bloc Quebecois, although it approved in principle of Bill C-47, was vehemently opposed to the creation of a new national agency, and objected to the fact that there was no provision being added to the Criminal Code.
During the Standing Committee on Health, witnesses voiced a number of misgivings about the content of Bill C-47; they felt that it was too restrictive, too negative, that it was hindering research and depriving infertile couples of their only remaining option for having a child.
The most common comment made by witnesses was that it is inappropriate to put assisted reproduction procedures and genetic technologies in the same legal framework. These are, they said, different fields requiring different frameworks. Despite all these disagreements, however, there was one consensus: the necessity to take the necessary steps as soon as possible to ban the cloning of human beings.
On this point in particular, everyone agrees that there is not, at this time, any good justification for allowing the cloning of human beings, whatever the procedure used.
When the federal election was called last April, Bill C-47 died on the Order Paper , just as it was about to come back to the House for third reading. There is good reason to think the government was not unhappy to see the bill expire.
In fact, numerous criticisms raised by the scientific community with respect to the content and even the spirit of several provisions of the federal bill would have forced the government to make significant changes.
One of the results of the death of Bill C-47 is that all research and experiments in Canada are still subject to the voluntary moratorium introduced by the then Minister of Health, Ms. Marleau, in July 1995. Need I mention that urgent action is required?
In its final report, the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies concluded, and I quote: “We have judged that certain activities conflict so sharply with the values espoused by Canadians and by this Commission, and are so potentially harmful to the interests of individuals and of society, that they must be prohibited by the federal government under threat of criminal sanction”.
These activities include human zygote/embryo research related to ectogenesis, cloning, animal/human hybrids, the transfer of zygotes to another species, and so on.
While the members of the international community seem unanimous in their opposition to all forms of human cloning, concerns over possible attempts at human cloning are justified. No one has yet shown that this practice does not involve serious ethical problems. Scientists, including the researchers who have cloned Dolly, have indicated they have no intention of trying to clone human beings.
However, there are a number of supporters of animal cloning. According to some, it might be possible to create strains of animals able to produce in their milk great quantities of proteins that may be useful in treating human diseases. Experiments like the one producing Dolly could also help researchers better understand human reproduction and hereditary illnesses, like cancer.
A clause in Bill C-47 prohibited human cloning. It is this clause we have incorporated in Bill C-247. It criminalizes human cloning, without however prohibiting scientific research in genetics, which may be beneficial in a number of areas.
The main clause of Bill C-247 reads as follows:
- The Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 286:
286.1(1) No person shall knowingly
(a) manipulate an ovum, zygote or embryo for the purpose of producing a zygote or embryo that contains the same genetic information as a living or deceased human being or a zygote, embryo or foetus, or implant in a woman a zygote or embryo so produced; or
(b) alter the genetic structure of an ovum, human sperm, zygote or embryo if the altered structure is capable of transmission to a subsequent generation.
(2) No person shall offer to carry out any procedure prohibited by subsection (1).
(3) No person shall offer consideration to any person for carrying out any procedure prohibited by subsection (1).
Since all known and imaginable cloning techniques will still require either sperm or a human ovum, or both, banning modification to their genetic structure and their manipulation for the purpose of perpetuating genetic characteristics in other fetuses or embryos, closes the door right from the start to the process of manipulation which leads to human cloning.
Clauses 2 and 3 in the bill extend the penalties to any person offering or requesting a deliberate human cloning experiment. This also closes the door to the researchers of this world, the likes of Richard Seed, who might be tempted to offer their services in Canada, as well as to those who might be tempted to seek out their services.
On numerous occasions, the Bloc Quebecois has called on the federal government to intervene in order to forbid these practices relating to the new reproductive technologies. Numerous questions were asked in this House to spur the government into action.
We also issued two press releases in which we called for criminalization of the sale of ova, embryos and fetal tissue. In May 1994, Minister Allan Rock stated that the bill was slated for introduction that fall. The very limited voluntary moratorium followed only in the summer of 1995, while Bill C-47, which merely transform the moratorium into law, was introduced in June 1996. Now it is February 1998. Nothing has been done yet, and it is very troubling.
Finally, and at another level, it must be emphasized that the new reproductive technologies raise an extremely serious and worrisome problem for the very future of our society as we know it.
While the birth rate is plummeting, genetic medicine and the NRTs are evolving exponentially. The use of these technologies challenges our values, because it involves the very definition of the foundations of our society, our descendants.
Within the medical community itself, stakeholders do not agree on the limits that should or should not be imposed. Within the general public, there is even greater confusion because of a lack of knowledge and information.
I quote Louise Vandelac, a sociologist and specialist in this field. She wrote:
Through ignorance, indifference, naivete or defeatism, we therefore leave up to the so-called specialists something that, from the dawn of time, has ensured the survival of the species and the network of family and social relationships, procreation, filiation and their evolution, when what is at stake is nothing less than our own and humanity's transformation.
How should we react to the “dematernalization” of procreation? At what point should we call a halt to the genetic manipulation that some people would like to use to eliminate certain diseases, but that others would like to use to improve humankind?
I will conclude. I would simply like to tell you that I am deeply worried about the scientist I mentioned earlier who wants to open human cloning clinics and who said that cloning and reprogramming DNA is the first real step toward man taking his place beside God.
If that is not blasphemy, I do not know what is. I therefore ask all members in the House to give their support for Bill C-247. Our society depends on it.