Mr. Speaker, last February, my colleague, the member for Drummond, introduced Bill C-247, an act to amend the Criminal Code (genetic manipulation).
This bill builds on the report tabled by the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies created in March 1989, commonly known as the Baird commission. The primary purpose of this commission was to analyze the impact on our society of genetic manipulation, pre-selection of sex, the phenomenon of surrogate mothers and artificial insemination. This study had long been demanded by a Canadian coalition of feminist groups.
It was another four years, and millions of dollars, before the commission tabled its report, and then only after going through some rough patches, as the House will recall. The government then imposed a voluntary moratorium in July 1995 and subsequently introduced Bill C-47, which died on the Order Paper when the election was called.
That government bill contained an important flaw, however. It did not criminalize human cloning. Today, we therefore find ourselves in a legal vacuum where only the voluntary moratorium applies.
The bill now before us deals with a very important issue, because its purpose is to prohibit human cloning, that is to say, the replication of human beings, in Canada. The chair of the royal commission, Mrs. Baird, also called on the federal government to bring in legislation in this regard. However, since the election, the government has been slow to take action.
It is therefore urgent, and if it is the pleasure of the House to pass this bill, Canada will follow the example of many countries, including the United States, Italy, Norway, Australia and France, which have already passed legislation prohibiting human cloning.
Many international bodies have passed similar resolutions. They include the Council of Europe, the British parliamentary commission on science and technology and UNESCO's Universal Declaration on the Human Genome.
Finally, the World Health Organization has declared that the techniques that produced Dolly the sheep cannot be used on humans.
It is interesting to note that the World Health Organization did not want to prohibit commercial ownership of cloning techniques. It protested only against the use of cloning in human reproduction.
In Quebec, consideration of the subject continued too. The commission set up for the task by the college of physicians proposed respect for the absolute precedence of human integrity and dignity over technical success, especially at the beginning and the end of life.
As you can see, the various experiments at the frontiers of science and life have given rise to a major ethics debate.
Recently, the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep by a group of Scottish researchers has revived the debate. What makes Dolly the sheep such a special case and why has it attracted so much attention?
Dolly is not the result of traditional fertilization involving the combination of the genetic material of two creatures of opposite sex. Rather, Dolly is the result of asexual laboratory reproduction of a single parent. In other words, Dolly was created from a single cell, that of the mother.
We have to admit that, from a purely scientific standpoint, this discovery is quite extraordinary. Professor Charles Thibault, a French specialist in biological reproduction, said that understanding nuclear fission and then fusion meant a better understanding of matter. Mastering cell division meant better understanding the living, in his opinion.
Great scientific discoveries have improved the lives of men and women. They have also enabled us to kill one another. Does the new race to clone mean progress for humanity by separating it into two species—the natural and the reproduced, the real and the false, the weak and the strong? This is what the bill introduced by my colleague from Drummond is attempting to answer.
It has the advantage of making cloning a criminal act, without prohibiting scientific research in genetics, which must also be closely monitored. For some researchers, for instance, animal cloning and its application to human beings is of particular interest to the pharmaceutical companies, needless to say, for the manufacture of drugs, organ transplants, and research into hereditary diseases and cancer.
Animal application of cloning would make it possible to rear perfect animals or to save endangered species. To quote Libération , “the race to clone all species is on. Now it is international, with the British and Americans in the lead, and commercial, of course. What is involved now is improving techniques for fast and efficient transgenic cloning—in order to provide humanized organs and drug-proteins. A major industrial and medical undertaking”.
There is no denying it, successful cloning is now part of our reality. Yet it is opening the door to the cloning of all superior animals, up to and including man. This is where the bill of my hon. colleague for Drummond fits in, and this is where the question arises: are they going to be cloning men, women and children?
According to the French publication Libération , American clinics already have in hand “catalogues of sperm donors and egg donors, with the physical and intellectual characteristics of each , so that a genetic cocktail may be concocted which will come as close as possible to producing the ideal baby”.
The same newspaper also reported the implantation of frozen embryos and the “terrifying image of supermarkets where one would go and choose one's ready-to-wear baby like a frozen hamburger”.
We must not fall into the trap of considering human beings merely based on their genomes. Are we prepared to live in a society in which it would be possible to create armies of identical individuals, for a specific purpose, such as to ensure a stock of livers, hearts or lungs to be transplanted into other individuals born as a result of true fecundation?
The newspaper goes on to say that this would lead to “a society in which the most incredible scenarios would become reality: a dictator duplicates himself ad vitam aeternam, a dead child is reborn in her mother's womb, a woman delivers a baby that is her husband, her father, even herself”, and so on.
We are fascinated by science and technology, by irresistible challenges and incredible achievements. But there is also a human being, with a body and a mind, whose genes are only the foundations.
This major debate has to do with ethics, with the reversal of the natural order, with individual freedom and with values.
While all major discoveries bring about significant benefits, they also present potential dangers. According to the same newspaper, there is already a disturbing split. “The rich already send their children to the best schools. Tomorrow, they will want genetic improvement, better health and more advantages to help their children succeed”. Yet, democratic societies have always used science and technology to try to reduce the perverse effects of these inequalities.
Is this the type of society we want? I do not think so. We must reflect on this. Where do science and medicine stop? Where does the temptation to legitimize a eugenist project begin? It is a fine line.
To adopt this bill is to refuse to cross that line, which is so fine but which can have huge consequences for our own mutation and that of human beings in general.