Mr. Speaker, first, I want to go back a year and explain the process that went on with the legislation. It is very important that we look at exactly what we have in Bill C-56 and understand why it is in there. It all started a year ago on May 4 when the bill went directly to committee. It is the first piece of legislation that has ever gone directly to committee. It went right to committee, and I commend the minister at the time for doing that. It is a very contentious issue which is important to all members of the House and all Canadians.
Putting it before committee was a very wise thing to do, before entrenchment of partisan lines and before people said things in which they would entrap themselves before fully understanding the issue. For nine months the committee examined this issue. It had the best witnesses from across Canada and around the world tear the legislation apart and look at it from all sides; the scientific side, the ethical side and the family values side. At the end it was suggested that maybe it was named inappropriately and that it should be named building families.
There are really two parts. We have the part about the in vitro fertilization, the idea of what it takes when infertile couples cannot have children and what has to happen for them to conceive. We looked at what would assist them to build families, to build healthy new Canadians who would develop into prosperous individuals to help and grow society in Canada.
The other side is perhaps as some people would argue not even applicable to the bill. It is all on the scientific side which drives the idea that research should be done to ease the suffering of individuals, which has nothing to do with reproduction other than getting some of the material that could perhaps be used for stem cells in this area. That was important to understand.
We listened to everyone. For scientists, the success of in vitro fertilization is a brand new baby boy or girl. However for society it is much deeper than that. We had witnesses who appeared before the committee who said that who their parents were, where they came from, if there was an anonymous donor that they did not know anything about, left a void in their life which they could not handle later in life. It was very important that we understood the structure of the human body, which is very complex, and the psychological effects on many individuals. Success from the different perspectives was very different so we had to look at all sides of the issue.
On the embryonic stem cell side, if we are going to destroy an embryo, destroy life at its beginning to achieve stem cells by 14 days, kill it, take the stem cells and do research is an ethical minefield in the eyes of many people. We are taking human life at its very early and most vulnerable stage and destroying it. It is not an issue of whether life begins there or not. Biologically it does and whether we like that or not there is nothing we can do about that. The issue is how much value do we place on life at that stage. That is the ethical dilemma in which the House will be placed. It is something that we wrestled with as a committee for a year.
At the end of that, we recognized that there were other alternatives. We had scientists come to the committee who said that we should not go down that path. From the scientific research being done and the easing of human suffering, it was much more successful on the adult stem cell side of it.
In December the committee issued its report on its findings entitled, “Assisted Human Reproduction: Building Families”. This was an all party committee. The committee had a majority of Liberal members, and the other members of parliament were three Canadian Alliance, two Bloc, one NDP and one Progressive Conservative. After we listened to all the witnesses, we came up with these recommendations.
The recommendation states:
Research using embryos be a controlled activity requiring a licence. Even if all other regulatory criteria are met, no licence may be issued unless the applicant clearly demonstrates that no other category of biological material could be used for the purposes of the proposed research.
Prior to that, the preamble, we came to that conclusion because we heard that embryonic stem cell research presents some possibilities. Other sources, such as umbilical cord blood or adult stem cells are more available, are more easily obtained, are less ethically contentious. Some witnesses argued that research on stem cells using sources other than embryos might be sufficient to obtain the stem cell potential.
The committee was struck with the testimony that in the past year there have been tremendous gains in adult stem cell research in humans. We also heard that after many years of embryonic stem cell research in animal models, the results are not providing the expected advances. Therefore, we want to encourage research funding in the area of adult stem cells.
After nine months of listening to the best and the brightest in our land and in the world, the committee which had no vested interest said that there were two ways we could go. We could destroy life at its beginning and do research on the embryo which has very limited scientific possibilities at this time, or we could go on this other line which is the adult or non-embryonic stem cell research, which is umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid and on and on. The committee decided to go there. The bill does not reflect that and therein lies the problem and the reason for an amendment. We need a piece of legislation that recognizes the value of the adult or non-embryonic stem cell research.
What has happened since December? As I reported a couple of days ago in the House, in the last 60 days there have been a number of different advancements that have happened involving Parkinson's patients. These results were not just proposed and looked hopeful; the patients were actually cured. It is the same thing for multiple sclerosis and autoimmune resistance and on and on. We have seen tremendous gains in the last 60 days compared to any other time in history. What has happened in this line of research in the last year has been absolutely phenomenal. The advancement is growing and growing.
What happens in the next 60 days or in the next year becomes something we have to recognize. We have to be very cautious of going down the ethically charged line of destroying life at its beginning. All of this is important.
What is interesting is that because of this research we see actual cures coming from adult stem cell research. This was in an article on the fourth or fifth page of the Globe and Mail . If the research had been done on embryos and it had been embryonic stem cells that had cured the Parkinson's and MS patients, it would have been a shot heard around the world.
The drive of the scientists and society to get to the embryos is absolutely astounding. We do not have enough information on this whole area. It is very important that we take our time. We have to deliberate. Society has to wrestle with the same things we have wrestled with in committee so that we do not make mistakes. We must be wise in how we go down this ethically charged line.
The whole idea of patent law is not part of the bill because patent law comes under the industry minister. It is unfortunate. Something on patenting the human body should be placed in this legislation. Patenting the human body should not take place. The human body should be something that we cherish. How we find it may be patented, but certainly we should not allow ourselves to patent the human body.
The most important part of this legislation is not what we do with the embryo; it is what we do with the agency that licenses the research as we go forward in the 21st century. It must be accountable and garner the trust of Canadians if we are to truly have a piece of legislation and work in areas that are so ethically charged. It has to be looked at. It has to be changed. We have to make that as open and transparent as possible. I encourage all members to be wise as we deliberate in that area.