Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased to speak today in connection with Bill C-247, because my hon. colleague for Drummond is its sponsor, and also because I am a member of the Standing Committee on Health.
Public awareness was suddenly aroused around the world when the news was released that an adult ewe had been cloned by a team in Scotland.
I would like to start with a definition of the word “clone”. 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.
The concerns world-wide about cloning human beings are justified. First a brief historical overview is necessary.
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”.
The Baird Commission tabled its report only in November 1993. The main conclusions and recommendations were broadly similar to the foreign studies on this topic.
So the federal government announced in January 1996 the creation of an interim advisory committee with a mandate to put the moratorium into effect, to follow developments in new reproduction technologies and to advise the minister.
So, on June 14, 1996, the federal Minister of Health at the time, David Dingwall, introduced Bill C-47. There was no provision for the application of the Criminal Code.
The federal government's proposed second stage involved amending Bill C-47 to include a regulatory framework for all reproduction and manipulation technologies.
Despite its approval in principle of Bill C-47, the Bloc vigorously opposed the establishment of a new national agency and deplored the fact that the Criminal Code was not applied.
During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Health, witnesses expressed a number of reservations about the content of this bill.
Clearly, at this point in time, there is no justification for cloning human beings, regardless of the process used.
I should mention that one of the clauses in Bill C-47 prohibited human cloning. This clause is found in Bill C-247. It criminalizes human cloning, without prohibiting scientific research in genetics, which may be beneficial at several levels.
Clauses 2 and 3 of this bill also make liable to punishment anyone who deliberately offers to carry out or requests experiments in human cloning.
The Bloc has repeatedly called for government intervention to prevent practices related to new reproduction technologies.
The Bloc Quebecois called for criminalization of the sale of ova, embryos and foetal tissue. In May 1994, the then Minister of Justice stated that the bill was slated for introduction in the fall of 1994. The moratorium followed only in 1995, and Bill C-47, which merely makes the moratorium law, was introduced in June 1996.
It is clear that the use of these technologies challenges our values, because it involves the very definition of the foundations of our society, our descendants. Limits must be set, but what should those limits be? We see that the entire world is concerned by this problem.
In March 1997, the following comment by Dr. Joseph Ayoub appeared in La Presse “France has thus played a role by creating, in 1983, a national advisory committee on ethics in the life sciences and health. It advises on the ethical problems raised by the progress of knowledge in the fields of biology, medicine and health, and publishes recommendations on these topics”.
After 10 years of work, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe recently approved a draft agreement on human rights and biomedicine. The approved document allows research on in vitro embryos under two conditions: if it is in the interest of their development or if it is related to the diagnosis of serious diseases.
But any creation of embryos for research continues to be prohibited. Now, what remains to be done is to obtain an international consensus on the human genome and human rights from the UNESCO international bioethics committee.
The British parliamentary inquiry on science and technology called for international regulation of cloning, in order to prevent any deviation into eugenics.
As far back as March 1996, the Collège des médecins du Québec launched a commission to examine the practice of medicine in the year 2000. Its mandate was to examine the future prospects of medicine, the changes it will have to face, and the steps to be taken to deal with these new realities in relation to the major ethical issues of the day, which mainly affect the beginning and end of human life.
One of the commission's recommendations to the Collège des médecins was to ensure that human integrity and dignity takes precedence over technical progress. It also recommended that surveillance systems be put into place in order to avoid any deviations, and to create a standing committee on ethical issues.
Obviously, cloning raises a number of ethical and legal problems. Cloning does not seem to be a solution for ensuring the survival of our planet. Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-247 introduced by the hon. member for Drummond.