Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to address this bill, which deals with very personal values and moral issues on which every member of parliament must reflect before taking a position which, in the end, will not necessarily be a party position, but a personal position based on all the values that we inherited through our education and that we developed throughout our lives.
What is the object of the bill on assisted human reproduction? This legislation deals with the use of embryonic stem cells. As we know, this is a very controversial area in medical research.
What are stem cells? They are cells that have not reached maturity and that have the ability to either specialize to form various human tissues or organs, or reproduce themselves. According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, these cells have huge potential to help better understand human development and to treat degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Stem cells used for research can come from three main sources: embryos that are at a very early stage of development, fetal reproductive organs, which also have stem cells that could potentially be used for a number of purposes, and adult tissues, such as skin and muscles, which are stem cells with limited possibilities.
There are pros and cons about this. This is not an issue that is easy to settle. However, it is obvious that the lack of legislation in this area opens the door to possible abuse. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and not legislate in this area. This is why it is appropriate to have this bill before us.
In recent years, the Bloc Quebecois has been pushing this issue in a significant way, particularly through the hon. member for Drummond, who once introduced a bill, which was considered but died on the order paper before an election.
We then decided not to introduce a new bill, because the government had pledged to introduce legislation. It took a long time, but it now before us and we must evaluate it.
In my opinion, a vote at second reading stage will be a vote to indicate whether or not we want legislation in this area. The details and the position need still more study. I plan to hold a roundtable in my riding, which will enable me to get advice from experts as well as to sound out the public on this reality.
Because in certain aspects—as has been shown by the arguments in favour—as a historical argument, in the 1970s, DNA research was strongly objected to. After the establishment of government guidelines, however, not only was there a good framework but this also made it possible to develop human insulin for diabetics.
There are therefore some aspects such as these which need to be addressed in order to see whether indeed a more advantageous situation will not be created which will make it possible to cure disease, to remedy situations and to improve the lot of human beings in general. On the other hand, this must not be unconditional and without a very specific framework.
Many of those who argue in favour state that research on embryonic stem cells has a very high potential for curative medicine. As a humanitarian argument, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has pointed out that research is indispensable if the situation of those with diabetes is to be improved.
A number of experts have pointed out that hundreds of frozen embryos are being allowed to thaw out in Canada's fertility clinics because they are no longer needed, while they could be used to discover treatments for such diseases as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
It can be seen from this example that this is a not a black and white situation, but rather a grey one. It deserves some framework in order to avoid potential excesses.
There is one other argument in favour. This is that certain women's groups and certain legal experts argue that, in our current legal framework since 1988, the supreme court has been obliged to recognize that not only is a fetus not a human being—which civil law also acknowledges—but that it could not be considered viable before the 20th week of gestation.
If a fetus is not a human being, then tissues from it are not tissues from a human being. This shows just what very basic concepts we are dealing with, the basic values of individuals.
There are opposing arguments. This research on stem cells from human embryos stirs up controversy, particularly because it leads to the destruction of the embryo. This is a reality we have to come to grips with.
According to the Catholic Church, the creation of embryos for research purposes and the use of embryonic stem cells are actions contrary to the will of God, for whom reproduction must always be a conjugal act. This position does not perhaps reflect the general public perception, but it gets us thinking deeply about fundamental issues, such as that of the belief in God, which can have repercussions. Members of this House may have different beliefs. That is all the more reason for a free vote. In these circumstances, I believe that the assisted human reproduction bill, which has been some time in coming, deserves to be considered.
In order to ensure the health and safety of those who turn to assisted reproduction, this bill stipulates that individuals thinking of donating an ovum or an embryo for assisted human reproduction or research purposes must give their informed consent in writing before any procedure. In effect, a certain form of charlatanism is avoided if consent is required.
Children born through the use of reproductive material will have access to medical information on donors, but will not necessarily have access to their identity, donors being free to decide whether or not to divulge their identity. Many issues will have to be considered by the committee. The committee will hear from experts and determine whether, in fact, the bill goes far enough. I think that we must really take the time to consider this bill, get opinions and determine what Quebecers and Canadians want in this regard.
The legislation would also prohibit unacceptable activities, such as the creation of human clones for any reason whatsoever, i.e. for purposes of reproduction or for therapeutic purposes. The legislation would also prohibit creating an embryo for purposes other than creating a human being or improving assisted reproduction techniques, creating chimeras for reproductive purposes, or providing financial inducements to a woman to become a surrogate mother. This situation exists in our society. We want there to be a clear framework, and a debate is therefore relevant.
There is also a very important aspect of the bill in terms of regulating assisted reproduction techniques. As far as I am concerned, it is very important to have the resulting regulations and guidelines on the most contentious aspects of the legislation in short order, so that we know what the regulations will actually contain.
Given that this is a very sensitive bill with long term repercussions that will undoubtedly establish the foundations of a policy that will be in place for many years, it is important to ensure that the regulations do not contradict the will of legislators. We must be careful to study this issue in depth and be able to see the regulations beforehand.
The bill contains a number of the main recommendations of the Standing Committee on Health, made in December 2001, which the Bloc Quebecois supported. We have already spoken to these recommendations contained in the bill.
However, Bill C-56 does have some deficiencies. For example, it states that Health Canada will consult with the provinces regarding regulations on research and activities related to assisted reproduction. We must ensure that this promise is kept. We must give the bill some teeth to guarantee this measure.
It is critical that Canada's policy is developed in co-operation with the provinces and that there be an unequivocal recognition that this is an area of shared jurisdiction.
This is a bill that touches on fundamental questions. I believe that all members of the House should be allowed to vote on this according to their conscience, that it be a free vote. This does not prevent discussion in caucus or speeches in the House, but at the end of the day, we must have legislation that the House of Commons can be proud of and that reflects our society's vision on such a controversial subject.
In closing, I would invite all of my colleagues to reflect on this bill and to participate in the different debates that will take place. I personally intend to organize a roundtable on this issue in my riding.