Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-13 at this particular stage. I have had the chance to address it on a couple of previous occasions.
We in the opposition feel that regulation is needed in this field. We have heard that from a number of members debating this topic today. As many of my colleagues have said, there is concern about this because it deals with the creation and death of human life and requires some measure of public oversight on that regulation.
It should be noted that we do support a number of aspects of Bill C-13. We fully support bans on reproductive or therapeutic cloning, chimeras, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, germ line alteration and the buying and selling of embryos. We also support a regulatory body to monitor and regulate fertility clinics, though we want changes to the agency proposed in the bill.
As many of my colleagues have talked about the aspects of the preamble, I will focus specifically on some of the concerns we have with the bill in its current form. We support the recognition that the health and well-being of children born through assisted human reproduction should be given priority. In fact, the health committee came up with a ranking of whose interests should have priority in the decision making around the idea of assisted human reproduction and related research.
The three priorities were the following: first, children born through an AHR system; second, adults participating in AHR procedures; and third, researchers and physicians who conduct assisted human reproductive research.
While the preamble of the bill recognizes the priority of AHR offspring, and this is a good thing, other sections of the bill fail to meet the standard. Children born through donor insemination, from donor eggs, are not given the right to know the identity of their biological parents. I will address the issue of donor identity in a moment.
The bill's preamble does not provide an acknowledgement of human dignity or respect for human life. This is obviously a big issue for many people in Canada. The bill is intimately connected with the creation of human life and yet there is no overarching recognition of the principle of respect for human life. This is a grave deficiency that many people have identified.
The committee's minority report recommended that the final legislation clearly recognize human embryo as human life and that the statutory declaration include the phrase “respect for human life”. We believe the preamble and the mandate of the proposed agency should be amended to include reference to this principle of respect for human life. That would help to calm many people's fears because many people do feel that science and technology, reproductive technologies and the continuing on of research in many of these facets for improving Canadian's lives and the conditions of other people around the world is something that is very important. Clearly there needs to be some recognition of the importance of human life so people's fears that this will not be abused in the future can be calmed.
In the area of the regulatory agency, the bill would create the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada to issue licences for controlled activities, collect health reporting information, advise the minister and designate inspectors for the enforcement of the act. The board of directors would be appointed by a governor in council with a membership that would reflect a range of backgrounds and disciplines relevant to the agency's objectives. The bill in this area was amended at committee placing board members under conflict of interest provisions. That is something that is of importance.
At report stage the health minister succeeded, however, in undoing part of that amendment. Licensees remain ineligible to serve as board members but the minister removed the section requiring that board members have no pecuniary or proprietary interests in any business operating in the reproductive technologies field. That is an important change because we have seen over and over again many conflicts of interest, or alleged conflicts of interest, in this government. We would hate to see that happen in an independent body that is obviously overseeing the regulation pertaining to reproductive technologies.
Clause 25 would allow the minister to give any policy direction she likes to the agency and the agency must follow it without any questions. If the agency were an independent agency, answerable strictly to Parliament, such political direction would be more difficult. The entire clause should be eliminated in our opinion.
The Canadian Alliance proposed amendments specifying that the agency board members be chosen for their wisdom and judgment. This was a health committee recommendation in the report “Building Families”. We want to avoid an agency captured by interests and clearly, that would be a good thing. Members must be able to work together to pursue the greater good, not merely represent certain constituencies.
The Liberals rejected their own recommendation when our amendment came up during the review of Bill C-13 at committee. At report stage the health minister succeeded in deleting one of the clauses requiring board members of the assisted human reproduction agency to come under conflict of interest rules. On this point, I believe the health committee had it right. Board members should not have commercial interests in the field of assisted human reproduction or related research.
We can draw on examples here. Imagine an employee or an investor in a biotech company with a financial interest in embryonic stem cell research making decisions for Canadians on the regulations of such research, including the definition of the word necessary, as specified in clause 40. Imagine the director of a fertility clinic making regulations on limits on sperm and egg donations or number of embryos produced for IVF treatments. Such conflicts of interest need to be prevented in this legislation. This change obviously could rise in some of those unfortunate conflicts.
The health minister said that subclause 26(8) would prevent almost anyone from serving on the board, but this was clearly not the intent of the health committee in its spirit.
To move on to the issue of donor anonymity, I know it is something that many of my colleagues have addressed in the House. Although the agency would hold information on donor identity, children conceived through donor insemination or donor eggs would have no right to know the identify of their parents without their written consent to reveal it. Donor offspring would have access to medical information of their biological parents. Some of the concern with this is that donor offspring and many of their parents want to end the secrecy that shrouds donor anonymity and denies children knowledge of an important chapter of their lives.
The Liberals claim to want to put the interests of children first, but in this case think the desires of some parents should trump the needs and interests of children.
In its review of draft legislation the health committee recommended an end to donor anonymity. Even in the minority report, the CA position was that where the privacy rights of donors of human reproductive materials conflicted with the rights of children to know their genetic and social heritage, the rights of the children should prevail.
However, when the issue came up during the review of Bill C-13, the Liberals defeated an Alliance amendment to end anonymity in a close vote. I believe it was six to five on the committee.
The government attaches a higher weight to the privacy rights of donors than to the access to information rights of donor offspring. This is where the Liberals get it backwards. An identified donor is a responsible donor and if all donors had to be willing to identify, then people would donate for the right reasons. Today, one of the main motivations for anonymity is the money factor, which is unfortunate.
There are just a couple of last concerns I would like to address before concluding. One of the issues is with clause 71, which allows the grandfathering of controlled activities until a date fixed by the regulations. This clause would allow scientists to engage in a controlled activity before the act takes effect thereby avoid licensing requirements and prosecution provisions. This could result in a stampede toward controlled activities before the bill takes effect. An example would be embryonic research.
The other issue I would like to address is the chimera issue. This bill prohibits animal to human chimera. That means human embryos implanted with animal cells. However, it does not prohibit human to animal chimera, animal embryos implanted with human cells. The definition of chimera should have been amended to include both human and animal embryos in which cells of other species have been implanted. I believe Motion No. 5 to this effect was unfortunately defeated, at committee.
A Liberal motion passed at report stage would allow the reimbursement for loss of work related income for surrogates when a doctor certified that continuing to work would pose a health risk to the carrier of the fetus. We oppose the motion because it permits the commodification of human life, rent a womb, payment for children, and the health committee also wanted no such payment for surrogacy. This was another issue of concern for many people.
I conclude by saying that I hope the Prime Minister will allow a free vote on this issue. It is obviously a matter of conscience for many members and we hope that element of bringing in a free vote in this place will be respected.