Mr. Speaker, I approach the debate on Bill C-56 with great concern on several levels. First, the bill concerns me deeply as a parliamentarian in that once again the government is seeking to take crucial matters, truly matters of life and death, out of the purview of the House by handing them over to secretive cabinet regulation and an unelected, unaccountable, government-appointed committee of reputed experts. This has serious implications for our democracy. The bill should be opposed on these grounds alone.
However, I have deeper concerns about the bill, not simply as a member of parliament but as a human being. The bill goes to the heart of what it means to be a human in a technological age and I am afraid that in several areas it makes grave, perhaps irreparable, mistakes.
First let me address the continued subversion of the role of parliament implicit in the bill. It leaves some of the most sensitive questions regarding surrogacy and the use of embryonic stem cells in the hands of the new assisted human reproduction agency of Canada. The agency would not report to parliament but only to the minister. The minister's power of delegation to the agency would be considerable. Clause 32 allows the minister to delegate any agency decision to individual members of the agency. One person, therefore, could be called upon to make a grave moral choice on behalf of all Canadians. Clause 25 allows the minister to give the agency policy directives at any time, which it must implement and which would be kept secret. This committee is being charged with dealing with some of the most important ethical challenges imaginable.
I do not believe that matters of great moral import like this should simply be left to self-interested experts to decide. Yes, experts may have great technical expertise, but their intense involvement with issues in many cases makes them blind to the common moral sense of society. For instance, a great many scientists and researchers are demanding already that the bill should be broadened to allow for therapeutic cloning, but clearly the vast majority of Canadians oppose this practice. The bill reflects their sentiment and the advice of the Standing Committee on Health by prohibiting therapeutic cloning. However, I am concerned that the minister has said in remarks that this ban may be “temporary” and that she is essentially waiting for public opinion to “catch up” with the research community.
I do not believe that Canadians' moral sense about this issue is simply due to ignorance. It is based on well founded and legitimate fears that therapeutic cloning may well lead a company or a research lab to abuse this technology in an unethical way and proceed with reproductive cloning. There are already reports of an Italian scientist who is attempting reproductive cloning. A new age cult with a large following in Quebec claims to be pursuing the same thing. This research would also further undermine respect for human life by turning human beings into something that simply could be copied and reproduced. Any sense of the sanctity or inherent dignity of human life is likely to be lost if a single embryo can be copied thousands of times.
Ordinary common sense Canadians can see the dark moral forest that we would enter if we take the path of therapeutic cloning, but too often experts whose professional interests and livelihoods depend on pursuing the latest technology cannot see the forest for the individual trees of their own research field. Can we really afford to hive off questions as sensitive as this to self-interested experts or should they be guided by the will of Canadians as expressed in parliament?
Let me come to a specific example, perhaps the most dangerous step taken in this bill: the authorization of embryonic stem cell research.
Many people say they have been wrestling with their consciences over this issue during the debate. It is my observation that when one is wrestling with one's conscience, one's conscience usually loses. Conscience is a moral guide that instinctively tells us right from wrong. If our conscience tells us that destroying nascent human life is unethical and we start to wrestle with that moral intuition, then what that really means is that we are surrounding the clear witness of conscience with a smokescreen of rationalizations and relativizations. If our consciences are telling us that this manipulation and destruction of life is wrong, then I submit that as legislators we ought not to be wrestling with conscience but listening to it and acting in accordance with it.
A human embryo is a living human being. This is not an assertion of opinion but an uncontrovertible, prima facie, scientific fact. Human life is a continuum and that continuum begins at the moment when the ovum is fertilized by the spermatozoa. At that point, a unique, unrepeatable human existence begins. All our capacities and abilities, our hair colour, our height, perhaps even our intellectual aptitudes and our personalities, are to a large extent determined by that unique genetic code that has just been created. If left in its natural state, that single-celled entity will become a baby.
The question we must ask ourselves is, what dignity and what worth does that unrepeatable human life have? I suggest that it has an intrinsic dignity and worth that we cannot deny.
Many religions teach that from the moment of conception the physical embryo coexists with the spiritual soul. Personally, I believe that to be true. Even if we were not to believe in the intrinsic sanctity of human life surely we could all respect the dignity of human life. All human life shares a common ancestry and potential. That is an insight available to people with or without religious faith.
If we were to undermine the dignity of the human embryo in the lab, we would surely undermine the dignity of all human life, the severely handicapped, the sick, the elderly, and those who some cultures and political ideologies have taught to be racially inferior. If these living human beings do not have intrinsic dignity and worth, at least in the eyes of some, then what is to prevent them from being used simply as objects for research?
We all know the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele and the hideous experiments he performed on Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz. This is perhaps an extreme but it is an extreme that can be reached when we move down the path of treating human beings as objects and not as persons.
I do not believe that there can be any justification for using living human beings for experimentation, no matter how worthy the purported objective.
I, and my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, believe there is a great potential in adult stem cell research. Stem cells can be derived from the skin, umbilical cord or elsewhere in the body of grown humans. There are no ethical dilemmas in this research any more than there is an ethical dilemma in cutting our hair or trimming our nails.
Increasingly, scientists believe they can produce adult stem cells with the same flexibility and potentiality that they previously believed only embryonic stem cells could provide with an added therapeutic bonus. If we receive stem cells derived from our own tissue it would have the same DNA and thus no risk of tissue rejection while there is a high risk of rejection for stem cell therapies using stem cells derived from another genetically different human being such as an embryo.
Our party has called for a three year moratorium on embryonic stem cell research to allow adult stem cell research to prove its enormous potential. I stand by this call as a good first step. I believe in principle that even if adult stem cell research did not have the promise of embryonic stem cells, it would still be unethical to manipulate and destroy human embryos for utilitarian purposes.
The Liberal majority on the health committee did not call for an absolute ban or even a moratorium but did propose that a high threshold be met. The majority report said that the use of human embryos should not be allowed in research
--unless the applicant clearly demonstrates that no other category of biological material could be used...
Subclause 40(2) of the bill significantly lowers the bar and says that embryonic stem cell research can proceed
--if the Agency is satisfied that the use is necessary for the purpose of the proposed research.
The applicant no longer has to prove that no other category of biological material could be used but simply that human embryos are necessary for this particular project. As I have said, any use of human embryos, which are unique, living human beings, is ethically wrong prima facie whether or not embryos are truly necessary for particular research or therapeutic purposes.
The strongest pragmatic objective of this approach is that surely we should allow embryos to be used for something, otherwise, in the eloquent words of the minister “they will be thrown in the garbage”. Let me give three arguments against this.
First, if there are a significant number of embryos left over in in vitro fertilization clinics, then the real question is not what to do with the extra embryos but why so many unnecessary embryos are being created in the first place. At a minimum, IVF clinics under this legislation should be restricted to producing the least possible number of embryos necessary to result in successful conception. Research to allow IVF clinics to reduce the number of embryos that have to be created for successful implantation should be vigorously promoted and clinics that seem to be producing too many embryos should be sanctioned by the agency.
Second, the minister's position is that the only embryos being used are leftover embryos that would otherwise be destroyed. It is a red herring. On the one hand, improving technology will eventually reduce and we hope eliminate the supply of so-called extra IVF embryos. On the other hand, the government is creating a demand in the research community and the biotech industry for embryonic stem cells in the bill. If the supply of IVF embryos were choked off, these industries would be back in a few years demanding that the government allow new embryos to be created or cloned solely for research.
I submit to the attention of the House the growing field of embryonic adoption. At the U.S. senate hearings on this issue last year, a senator said that the embryos were not human beings, they were simply the size of a dot. There were people at that committee hearing with babies, fully created babies whom they had adopted at the embryonic stage and who had grown into children. They were adopted embryos now living as human beings. This is a human way of meeting one of the purported objectives of the bill, to assist infertile couples.
We need to make a fundamental choice. The bill would open the door to the use of human life as simply raw material to making objects and commodities out of life itself. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses presented to the people of Israel the Torah, or law, that God had given him. He said:
--I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.
Today 3,000 years later after Sinai we still face the same fundamental moral choice. I hope that we will choose life, that both ourselves and our descendants may live.