Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Wednesday, December 12, 2001, be concurred in. It is a privilege for me to speak to the motion.
Almost a year ago the former health minister introduced draft legislation on assisted reproductive technology and related research. Before I get into that piece of legislation that was brought down as draft legislation I would like to give a history as to what brought us to that point because that was not the first attempt at such legislation.
The events leading up to it began in 1991. A royal commission report was tabled in 1993 just to sit on a shelf and accumulate dust. Nothing came of it. However, in 1997 Bill C-47 was put on the order paper only to die on it at the call of an election.
This is the third attempt at such legislation that would allow us to deal with an issue that is becoming more and more important. In fact, our newspapers are filled with reports of cloning and how stem cell research is being developed at the present time.
The former health minister presented a fairly extensive bill last May. Some of the subject matter of the bill dealt with cloning, surrogacy and stem cell research. There were two sides to that piece of legislation. There was a scientific side and a family building side, which is the reproductive side dealing with in vitro fertilization, surrogacy and all of that. It was a thorough two-stage piece of legislation.
There were a number of things that were prohibited in that piece of legislation: reproductive and research cloning, which some people term as therapeutic cloning; and commercial surrogacy. We said there should be no modification in the whole area of gamete donation and surrogacy. The maintaining of an embryo outside of a womb was prohibited and there were many others.
One of the activities that would be allowed under licensing was embryonic stem cell research. However, the most important piece in the legislation was the regulatory body that would oversee the prohibitions and the licensing of the overall department of assisted reproductive technologies and related research. Notably when the minister introduced the bill he said:
There must be a higher notion than science alone…that can guide scientific research and endeavour. Simply because we can do something, does not mean that we should do it.
That bill was sent directly to committee. It was the first piece of legislation that came into this parliament and went directly to committee. It was a novel approach, one that I believe should have been taken up in many pieces of legislation introduced here because it gives us a non-partisan opportunity to deal with an issue before entrenchment, party lines and party division take over a subject.
The committee met over an extensive period of time, nine months, and dealt with several issues and heard from dozens of witnesses. We heard from the scientists who were eager and excited about getting into this subject matter. We heard from the ethicists and faith communities. We heard from parents struggling with infertility and surrogates. We heard from the offspring of assisted reproductive research. We heard from the disabled, legal counsels, legal experts, et cetera. All of these groups were very important.
I mention these groups because when we deal with a subject matter that is on the cutting edge of scientific research we sometimes think it should be driven by science and scientific interests alone. However, when we look at the subject matter it has many different facets to it.
It has much to do with parents and children. It has much to do with legality, with interest groups from the disabled and others. This is why we looked at all of those. There were differing perspectives and sometimes compelling testimonies on the complex subject that had many considerations. We heard compelling and moving evidence.
Meanwhile, development in this area kept rolling around, it did not stand still. Over this last year we have seen some phenomenal things happen. Members will recall some of the reports that came forward this past summer that groups were intent on human cloning. Something significant happened in the United States in August when President Bush announced that funding guidelines for embryonic stem cell research, and notably public funds, would not go into pre-existing embryonic stem cell lines. There would be no more killing of embryos with public money was basically what he was saying.
There is a memorable phrase that is well worth noting. He said that we did not create life in order to destroy it. However, things kept rolling along and we saw another challenge to this whole idea of human cloning in November when headlines proclaimed the first human had been cloned. This came out of an advance cell technology when an American privately funded company announced that it had used the clone technology to grow a cell that could eventually serve as a source of a human cell line. This embryo died in the Petri dish at six days of age.
We can see how this is developing and how things are moving along very quickly. During this same period the Canadian Alliance argued in committee that legislation should be tabled and the bill broken up in order to deal with the issues that we all agreed should not go forward and that we should stop therapeutic and reproductive cloning which are internationally recognized as deplorable acts. We suggested this and brought it to committee only to be turned away.
We continued with hearings throughout the fall and wrapped up in November. In December the committee met in camera to draw its final recommendations to the minister on the new legislation. One thing that was significantly different was in the intent of the legislation when it was introduced in May compared to what we had discovered over the nine month period. We wanted to change the original name to focus on building families because reproduction is all about reproducing cells and growing healthy families as a society. That is what is important as a nation. That is what is important as society goes forward.
We introduced the majority report and minority reports. The majority report included many provisions that the Canadian Alliance supported, such as a greater primacy for the principle of respect for human dignity, individuality and integrity of the embryo. We agreed with the banning of human cloning, whether it be reproductive or therapeutic, of commercial surrogacy or of animal-human hybrids, the combining of animal and human DNA.
We also agreed with having an accountable, regulatory body to deal with this legislation as this science develops into the 21st century. We need a body that will deal with the things we could not have recognized, that we could not have come to terms with or foreseen, but we must have a body that is truly accountable to Canadians and truly accountable to the House if we are to be able to move forward.
Unfortunately the Liberals would not agree with a moratorium on embryonic stem cell research. Their recommendation number 14, on page 16, stated:
Research using embryos be a controlled activity requiring a licence--
As we thought through exactly where we should go on this very important piece of legislation,we came up with a minority report. There were eight things that we wanted to highlight. One was the urgency of the legislation. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We cannot afford to fail with this piece of legislation because of the way science is moving forward, so we said that it should happen by the end of March.
We said that there should be respect for human life. We said that in the conflict between ethics and science, where ethical accountability conflicts with scientific possibility, the ethical should prevail. With regard to regulations on the embryonic stem cell research, we said that we should back off for three years and allow science to work on the adult stem cell side, which is not fraught with ethical dynamics and dilemmas in any of the research being done or anything coming out of the research. We said we should take a breather as science catches up and we should put our energies where they can be most valuably used, where our precious Canadian dollars for research can accomplish the most. We are seeing many things happen even in the last few months with regard to the excitement that adult stem cells are creating and what actually can be accomplished. We are seeing such things as Parkinson's and muscular dystrophy actually being cured through the adult stem cell.
We said that we should respect provincial jurisdictions. With respect to privacy and accessibility to information, we said that when the rights of the donor conflict with the rights of the child, the rights of the child should prevail. We are saying that we must have statutory standing in front of that regulatory body for all interests, not just the scientific interest. As well, we should have a free vote in the House when the legislation comes forward.
Since we tabled our report there have been several developments. I would like to underscore some of them and the need for this legislation in Canada. In January we learned that for years Industry Canada has been issuing patents on human genes. The health committee was under the impression that patents would not be issued for human genes. We recommended against gene patenting. The concept here is no different from that of developing a telescope, looking out into the universe and discovering a star. It is fine to patent the telescope. It is not appropriate to patent the star. Patenting a human gene is no different.
In February, a Kentucky fertility specialist, Dr. Zavos, pledged to begin efforts to clone a human being, in an undisclosed country outside the United States. Everyone has to understand that in the cloning process only .5 of the clones are really ever born healthy enough to grow into a full human being. In the United States, for example, if only .5 of clones, only one out of every 200, are born whole, then we would want to have those born in a society or in a country that socially picks up all of the disasters that come out of that. I would suggest that they are very possibly targeting Canada and we could potentially be seeing this kind of experiment happening on our soil.
Also in February it was announced that a woman with faulty genes would get an embryo without those faulty genes. We are hearing story after story with regard to designer babies. We are talking about deaf parents who wanted to ensure that they had a deaf son so they had another embryo from a surrogate to make sure it would happen. We are seeing designer babies happening before our eyes, particularly in the last six months.
Recently a committee in the United Kingdom's House of Lords recommended that research on the embryonic stem cell would be permitted to continue, that therapeutic cloning would be allowed and that the first embryo bank of stem cell research would also be established. It is interesting to look at the United Kingdom and its experience over the last 10 years. It had a regulatory body that would allow only the destruction of embryos that were left over from in vitro fertilization. Just a month or so ago it changed the rules and now it is allowing embryos to be designed solely for the purpose of research and also allowing them to be developed to take stem cells from them, which would be the same as therapeutic or research cloning.
We can see the slippery slope we would be on as a nation if we were to open the door and go beyond the line, killing life to be able to do research on that life.
In March the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and this is a Canadian institute, announced guidelines allowing federal research funding to be directed to embryonic stem cell research. It was a complete end run on parliament. There is no regulatory body in place to deal with this, but the CIHR decided it would take it upon itself. It was interesting yesterday when we heard from the president of the CIHR, Dr. Bernstein. We asked him about some of these important issues and why he would bring forward his guidelines at the eleventh hour, after waiting a decade, and pre-empt the work of parliament. His answers were less than convincing.
It is interesting as well to see how his guidelines differ from the standing committee's report, a report that recommends a declaration of human dignity, individuality and integrity. As well, it is important to note that this all party report stated that research on an embryo should take place only if there is no other category of biological material that can be used. We can see that after 20 years of research of embryos being used in animals, we have cured nothing.
The new CIHR rules ignored these recommendations.
Early last week it was reported that the first cloned baby was on its way through the efforts of an Italian fertility specialist, Dr. Antinori. He claims to be in an Arab country and to have cloned a child that is eight weeks along in its mother's womb at the present time. We do not know how many others are happening around the world, but we know this is coming. We know the urgency is there.
Also last week, President Bush denounced all forms of human cloning and announced his support for legislation currently in progress on the banning of human cloning. He said “Life is a creation, not a commodity”. Finally, last week scientists linked to a group in Quebec claimed that they have already implanted cloned embryos in women. If they are experimenting on our soil, there no law to stop them. Science fiction is quickly becoming science fact.
On Friday we asked the government to assure us that the cloning experiments were not taking place in Canada. We received no such assurance. It is imperative that legislation on cloning and research on human embryos be debated in the House as soon as possible. We know that there are groups intent on cloning humans. The CIHR has pre-empted parliament by saying that research on embryos should go ahead.
The minister has pledged to have that legislation by May 10. We have now waited eight years for legislation on these issues. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health has carefully considered draft legislation and made its report to the House. Parliament is eagerly waiting to receive and debate the legislation on assisted reproduction, promised by the minister within the next month.
The CIHR's announcement has pre-empted that debate and has usurped the authority that rightly belongs to parliament in regard to making fundamental decisions on human life. The minister's acquiescence in this regard is an affront to a long process involving parliamentarians that precedes this announcement. Decisions on issues of such importance and controversy as embryonic stem cell research and human cloning must be made by parliament, not by unelected, unrepresentative, arm's length organizations funded by federal governments. Genome Canada stepped over the line last week, as it has now $11 million, $5.5 million from federal funds, toward embryonic stem cell research.
Canadians deserve to have their voices heard in parliament before a decision is made on these issues. The time for action is now.