It is my pleasure to rise again on Bill C-13 as we now debate the Group No. 5 amendments. I believe that the bill is actually one of the most important bills that the House will debate in this session and perhaps in this Parliament.
While the government has been tardy in bringing forward this debate since the 1993 royal commission, I caution the government not to attempt to rush through this legislation without allowing full debate and with every aspect of the bill being carefully looked at.
This legislation will greatly affect the lives of many present and future Canadians. We must take the issue very seriously and fully understand the implications that go with it. We are not discussing the price of a commodity or the engineering of a highway. We are debating legislation that affects the day to day lives and, even more, the very history of individuals. We must not and cannot take this lightly. We must ensure that we get it right.
I currently have some very strong concerns that the government has once again failed in its duty to the Canadian people. For instance, the current wording states that embryonic research can be undertaken “if the Agency is satisfied” that such research is “necessary”
I am very concerned with this wording and what the definition of “necessary” may include. When we permit such subjective language to become legislation that involves an issue such as reproductive technology, I believe that we permit the possibility of abuse and personal hidden agendas. While the health committee recommended that such research should be permitted “only if” researchers can demonstrate that no other category of “biological material can be used for the purpose of the proposed research”, the amendment offered by the Canadian Alliance restores the health committee recommendation and specifies that “healing therapies” should be the object of such research.
While I personally do not believe that embryonic research is acceptable at all, when it is being used for the development of cosmetics or drugs I believe that the practice breaches all moral and ethical boundaries.
With regard to the Group No. 5 amendments, I would like to speak to each of them in turn.
Motion No. 6 calls for the replacing of line 31 on page 2 with the following:
with the applicable law governing consent and that conforms to the provisions of the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research Guidelines released by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in March, 2002, as detailed in the Regulations.
The amendment expands the definition of consent to include provisions made in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research stem cell research guidelines and has my full support. I believe that while Parliament must have the ultimate decision making authority in Canada, we must rely upon the expertise, the advice and the recommendations that professionals truly can provide to us.
Motion No. 80 calls for the replacement of line 5 on page 21 with:
proposed research and the Agency has, in accordance with the regulations, received approval from a research ethics board and a peer review.
Again I support the motion. The amendment specifies that research using human embryos should be approved not only by the agency but by a research ethics board and a peer review. Even by being as thorough as we possibly can throughout this debate, the technology is developing so quickly that we do not know what issues will arise in the near or long term future. It is therefore imperative that the legislation include the requirement of an ethics review. The seriousness of embryonic stem cell research requires us to support any extra level of oversight or review.
The next amendment proposed, Motion No. 81, specifies that Bill C-13, in clause 40, be amended by adding after line 5 on page 21 the following:
(2.1) No person may use an in vitro embryo that was in existence before the coming into force of this Act for the purpose of research unless it conforms to the criteria set out in the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Research Guidelines released by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in March, 2002, as specified in the Regulations.
Again, as parliamentarians we must review and use the recommendations that come from expert witnesses and groups such as the CIHR. The clause adds further controls on the use of human in vitro embryos for research, namely that those in existence before the coming into force of this act shall not be used unless they conform to Canadian Institutes of Health Research guidelines. Again I fully support the motion.
Motion No. 82 calls for an amendment to clause 40 by adding after line 5 on page 21 the following. Again this is referred to as subclause 40(2.1):
A person who wishes to undertake research involving stem cells from in vitro embryos must provide the Agency with the reasons why embryonic stem cells are to be used instead of stem cells from other sources.
This amendment places the onus on researchers to explain to the agency the reasons why embryonic stem cells are to be used instead of those from other sources. This is similar to the original recommendation of the Standing Committee on Health that research on human embryos be permitted only if no other biological material is available.
Once again I want to remind the House how very frustrating it is for members of committees to do a thorough job, to make almost unanimous recommendations that are sent on to the minister, and then to have many of those recommendations and amendments simply thrown out. It thwarts the democratic situation in the House and once again adds to the democratic deficit that we have in this country.
I wish to remind the House that adult stem cell research is much more promising and does not involve the ethical problems that surround embryonic stem cells. I remind hon. members that adult stem cells are being used today to treat Parkinson's, leukemia, multiple sclerosis and many other ailments. The results from adult stem cells have been very positive, whereas the use of embryonic stem cells has been very problematic and has not shown the same process.
Of course we also have the problem of rejection. The use of embryonic stem cells requires the use of massive doses of anti-rejection drugs. That is not the case, of course, for adult stem cells. We often can use our own adult stem cells and bank them accordingly. I strongly recommend that researchers should focus their efforts on adult stem cell research and avoid the ethical and moral dilemmas that can arise from using embryonic stem cells.
In the same vein, Motion No. 83 calls for the following amendment:
The Agency shall not issue a licence under subsection (1) for embryonic stem cell research if there are an insufficient number of in vitro embryos available for that research.
Embryos should be used for the creation of life, not destroyed in the process. I support the amendment.
I support Motion No. 86, which states that clause 40 should be amended by adding after line 21 on page 21 the following:
Every licence involving deriving stem cell lines from in vitro embryos must include, in the prescribed form, the obligation on the licensee to provide the Agency with samples of the resulting stem cell lines.
This amendment attempts to control potential co-modification of human life or stem cell lines by requiring licensees to submit samples of derived stem cell lines to the agency.
Motion No. 88 calls for a series of additional clauses relevant to in vitro fertilization procedures. This amendment recognizes abuses and the potential for abuse that can and does occur in some fertility clinics.
In turn it would require the agency to establish limits for IVF procedures on: the number of ova that can be harvested or fertilized, the number of IVF embryos that can be implanted at any one time, the number of embryos that can be stored for later use, and the length of time that an embryo can be preserved.
I note that the Standing Committee on Health did recommend that limits be placed on these activities. Furthermore, the amendment seeks to protect the health and well-being of women and children. That certainly has my full support.
Motion No. 89 would revise clause 42 to be amended from “the agency may” to say “the agency shall”. The remainder of clause 42 reads:
...in accordance with the regulations, amend, suspend or revoke the licence of a licensee who contravenes this Act or the regulations or the terms and conditions of the licence or who fails to comply with any measures ordered to be taken under this Act, and may prescribe conditions for the restoration of a suspended licence.
I believe that this amendment has merit and is relative to the issue at hand. Given the gravity of assisted human reproduction it seems appropriate that licensees found guilty of contravening the act should have their privileges suspended.
Lastly, I support Motion No. 90 that adds a right of appeal to licensees who have had licences suspended for alleged violations to the act. If the regulation has the right to suspend, it is appropriate that the right to appeal is equally available.
The amendments that we are discussing today make up an integral part of the total package concerning reproductive technology. I believe they are reasonable and worthy of serious consideration by all members of the House.