Mr. Speaker, Bill C-13 is very important. As we know, it concerns assisted human reproduction. I can understand that there are divergent opinions on this matter. I know that some members of the House oppose this project for religious or other personal reasons. I do not share their views. However, we must divide the issue and see the positive and the scientific side of assisted reproduction. As I was saying, it is not simply a religious question or a question of conscience; one very important aspect is that, with assisted reproduction, we can help families or people who truly need help.
I will give the House a little scenario. For some years now, a cluster of technological developments have made the headlines. From Dolly the sheep to the debate about cloning human embryos for therapeutic purposes, the exciting buzz of biotechnology is taking us down previously unexplored paths. The fact that today we have some ability to deconstruct matter and, to some extent, reconstruct a living being, means that we are confronted with new problems, whose extent we still do not comprehend. These new possibilities require increased vigilance and solid ethical examination, in order to ensure that we do not overstep certain boundaries. In order to do this, a new legal language, new concepts and a new political approach are required.
Over the years, many parliamentarians, including a number from the Bloc Quebecois, have exposed the legal vacuum surrounding assisted reproduction. Again and again, we have revived the debate by calling on citizens and experts to express themselves and by demanding that the federal government impose socially acceptable limits as soon as possible. Still, we must admit that it is difficult to strike a balance between a solid ethical position that respects human dignity and the need to meet therapeutic needs.
We must decide overall how we view life and what kind of technological progress we want. Society has to make some choices, and it is high time for this debate to move into the public arena, so that everyone can have their say. Recently tabled legislation on assisted human reproduction by the federal government is a good first step in stimulating this discussion and, at the same time, relaunching a social debate temporarily shelved.
I want to review the highlights of this legislation. On May 9, the Minister of Health introduced this highly anticipated legislation on assisted human reproduction. It seeks to protect the health and safety of individuals using assisted reproductive technologies to start a family, to prohibit unacceptable activities, such as human cloning, and to regulate assisted reproductive technologies and related research. The assisted human reproduction agency of Canada, which will be created under this legislation, will issue licences for research, monitor such activities and oversee the application of the legislation on assisted reproduction.
Safety must, to some extent, be ensured. 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. 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.
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 in vitro embryo for purposes other than creating a human being or improving assisted reproduction procedures, creating chimeras or hybrids for reproductive purposes, providing financial inducements to a woman to become a surrogate mother, and buying or selling human embryos or providing property or services in exchange.
I would like to present an overview of the pros and cons as set out in the various arguments we have heard throughout the discussions on human cloning. The arguments of those in favour of stem cell research fall into four main categories: historical, medical, humanitarian and legal-political.
Let us begin with the historical arguments. In the 1970s, there was vocal opposition to DNA research. After the establishment of government guidelines, however, not only was there good monitoring of research, but research also led to the development of human insulin for diabetics.
As for the medical arguments, many are of the opinion that embryonic stem cell research has a huge potential for curative medicine.
Humanitarian arguments are usually advanced by associations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, based on their belief that such research is indispensable to improving the situation of those with the disease. Some experts point out that there are hundreds of frozen embryos in fertility clinics throughout Canada that have become useless, whereas they could have been used to help find treatments for such diseases as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
Now for the legal-political arguments. Certain women's groups and certain legal experts argue that, in our current legal framework, the Supreme Court has been obliged, since 1988, to recognize that not only is a fetus not a human being—which civil law also acknowledges—but that it cannot be considered viable before the 20th week of gestation. Thus, if a fetus is not a human being, then tissues from it are not tissues from a human being.
Now for the arguments against. Research on human embryonic stem cells is controversial, mainly because it involves destruction of the embryo used. 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. Since the embryo is a potential human being, according to the Church it must have a special moral status. Moreover, numerous associations have expressed the fear that cloning, initially justified as a means to a cure for certain very rare diseases, will eventually become widespread and lead to the production of designer babies.
I will give a background on where we stand. The Bloc Quebecois has been studying this issue for several years; we have had major discussions and extensive debate to ensure that the bill would protect human beings, and that the use of embryos would stop short of human cloning. At the same time, certain jurisdictions must also be protected.
Now, for our party's position; we have been defending this issue and talking about it amongst ourselves for many years. We also realize that Bill C-13, if adopted, would interfere in Quebec's jurisdiction with respect to health. That is unacceptable to us.
My colleagues from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and from Drummond have done extraordinary work in the Standing Committee on Health. They tried to move amendments to ensure that Quebec's jurisdictions would be left alone, but, to no avail, since they were all lost.
For us, this is not a religious question, but a question of jurisdiction and the administration of justice. We do not want this bill to change the rules for health in Quebec. Quebec manages its own affairs quite well and we want it to stay that way. We are against this bill.