Mr. Speaker, the debate on Bill C-13 has been going for a while now. We are currently debating the Group No. 5 amendments to the bill. The Group No. 5 amendments largely deal with clause 40 in the bill, which deals with the functioning of the regulatory agency.
I appreciate the remarks that other members have contributed to the debate already today, including the member from Calgary who just spoke. However I want to first go back to one intervention related to the Group No. 4 amendments since the minister herself stood just a few moments ago and addressed an issue related to an amendment that would strike section 26, clause 8, regarding the conflict of interest code.
I agree with the member from Winnipeg North who spoke just a few minutes ago on this matter. The committee took this quite seriously. The minister implied that subclause 9 of clause 26 is adequate for determining who is and who is not eligible to serve on this agency.
As a committee, we did not feel that the conflict of interest regulations were tight enough. For that reason the committee, after a lot of intense debate, included a clause that would restrict members of a board from having any pecuniary or proprietary interest in any business which operated in the industries related to reproductive technology. That was for a very specific reason. We felt this provision was necessary and that members should not support the striking of that clause.
Going on to the Group No. 5 amendments, these amendments deal largely with the regulatory agency, as I have alluded. The bulk of these amendments, beginning with Motion No. 80 up to and including Motion No. 90, deal with various aspects of the use of embryos for research.
In our minority report, the Canadian Alliance put forward the position that we would prefer a position that would make all these motions unnecessary, and that relates to the use for which cells will be used. We feel, as Canadian, we are dealing with this at a time when more information is available to us than other jurisdictions. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to make decisions that may be different from other jurisdictions that have gone before us, when scientific information on the alternatives to embryonic stem cell use were not as clear as they are today.
I want to underscore some of the reasons why we feel that it is wrong. The bill states that it is wrong to create embryos, in fact, it is forbidden to create embryos for research but what is happening as a consequence of the bill is precisely that.
I want to speak for a moment about adult stem cells because the committee heard abundant evidence, and there is abundant scientific evidence today. I will to quote from some of the top scientists who spoke to committee in just a moment . Briefly I want to say that adult stem cells are a safe, proven alternative to embryonic stem cells. Sources of adult stem cells are umbilical cord blood, skin tissue, bone tissue, and I will talk a about that in a moment. Adult stem cells are easily accessible, are not subject to immune rejection and pose minimal ethical concerns, as opposed to embryonic stem cell transplants that are subject to immune rejection because they are foreign tissues. The body has cells that check licence plates, it checks the DNA and it checks out the markers on the other cells. Cells from another body will be rejected until one takes anti-rejection drugs.
Adult cells today are being used in the treatment of Parkinson's, leukemia, multiple sclerosis and other conditions, but embryonic stem cells have not been successfully used in the treatment of anything.
I make reference to some of the distinguished scientists who spoke at health committee.
Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the CIHR, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, stated at committee November 26, 2002:
I would say that if one knew that adult cells would work in therapeutic settings... then there's no question that this would be the preferred route of treatment, as opposed to using embryonic stem cells, where one doesn't know about the transplant rejection situations and all that.
I thank Dr. Bernstein for that. Clearly adult cells are better. However there is the “if” word there.
Dr. Ronald Worton, who is the head of the Stem Cell Network at the University of Ottawa, “There is no question that autologous stem cells hold a lot of promise”. Those cells are taken from one's own body and put back into one's own body. He went on to say, “We believe a lot of the therapy that will be done with stem cells in the future will be done with adult stem cells”.
Dr. Prentice, University of Indiana, testified that he took stem cells that were isolated from his own blood for research purposes. Because these stem cells are smaller, they can be centrifuged and separated from other cells and can be used to grow in vitro and in Petri dishes.
I ran into a person in the city of Toronto just a short time ago, who is related to a person who is a very well known Canadian. I will not mention his name because I have no permission to do so. This man had a condition called multiple myeloma. That is a very serious bone cancer. Bone marrow cells had been extracted from him, then they isolated the stem cells. He had been given chemotherapy to kill the tumours in his bone. Then after the tumours had been killed with the chemo, his own stem cells were reintroduced, and he is doing just fine without medication.
Thursday, November 28, Dr. Freda Miller, now of Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto, spoke on the prospects for profit of adult stem cells. Dr. Miller was formerly from McGill University. She made a lot of headlines for her skin based precursors, cells which she isolated from the skin that were able to transform into stem cells and grow into other types of tissue. When the headlines on Dr. Miller's research hit the paper they said that researchers had found gold.
About the prospects for profit in adult stem cells, she said that they were very low. As a matter of fact, she said that she did not think that any company would fund the kind of dream scenario we were talking about, autologous transplantation for individuals.
Dr. Worton is saying that there is tremendous potential in autologous transplant, but Dr. Miller is saying there is not much money in autologous transplant. That will have to be funded by the public system, health charities or something as a purely medical treatment because there is not any money to be made.
The concern we have is that this important area of research should not be driven by money or by where profits are highest. The corollary is that there is a lot of interest from industry in promoting embryonic cells because if we can get it to work, it will have strings attached to it that may be patentable. Maybe the cells are patentable. Maybe the procedures are patentable to get something that is not a good fit to fit. We feel that this important area of research should not be driven by what will be most profitable for industry. It should be driven by what is most profitable for Canadians.
We have had petition after petition in the House from Canadians from all ridings. I have heard members opposite present petitions from their ridings asking Canadians to pursue adult stem cell research and make morally ethical research available to Canadians, the ones that show the most promise. That is the position of this party. I wish the members opposite would take this seriously so that we can advance what is in the best interest of Canadians. This is good science. It is not bad science or moral people trying to hold back good science. This is good science that would be better advanced by promoting adult stem cell research.
If we were to go that way, if we would follow the advice of minority report from the Canadian Alliance, these amendments would not be necessary. However the minister seems determined to keep the door open to use embryos, embryos that were intended to produce children. That was the whole focus of our draft legislation, building families, and the committee was determined to try to keep the focus on building families.
I applaud the member for Mississauga South who has brought in amendments that would require the agency to at least, if we are to go this way and use the most vulnerable people, the ones trying to produce babies, to encourage them to give up the surplus embryos to industry. At least this would require the agency to keep track of those embryos, to be accountable for them and to put requirements on the agency to monitor the use of these embryos and to try to restrict the commodification. We applaud the member for Mississauga South for his effort in bringing forth these amendments and I hope all members of the House will support them.