Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today as this is my opportunity to speak to Bill C-13, the reproductive technologies act, which is being debated currently at report stage.
The bill has sparked a good degree of concern from constituents in my riding of Skeena. I have received numerous letters, phone calls and e-mails expressing various degrees of concern for the details contained in the bill.
I would like to begin by outlining the concerns of my constituents, the concerns expressed by my party, the Canadian Alliance, and my personal concerns with the bill.
I do not disagree with everything in Bill C-13. There are in fact areas that I do support. I fully support bans on reproductive or therapeutic cloning, chimeras, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, germ line alteration, buying and selling of embryos and paid surrogacy. I also support an agency to regulate the sector, although we do want changes.
The Canadian Alliance opposes human cloning as an affront to human dignity, individuality and rights. We have repeatedly spoken out against human cloning, urging the federal government to bring in legislation to stave off the potential threat of cloning research in Canada.
In September 2001 we tabled a motion at a health committee meeting calling on the government to immediately ban human reproductive cloning. The Liberals deferred a vote on the motion. Their preference was to deal with cloning in a comprehensive reproductive technologies bill.
I would like to address what exactly the bill itself says. The preamble states:
--the health and well-being of children born through [assisted human reproduction] must be given priority...human individuality and diversity, and the integrity of the human genome, must be preserved and protected.
We support the recognition that the health and well-being of children born through assisted human reproduction, or AHR, should be given priority. In fact the health committee came up with a ranking of whose interests should have priority in decision making around AHR and related research: one, children born through AHR; two, adults participating in AHR procedures; and three, researchers and physicians who conduct AHR research.
While the preamble recognizes the priority of AHR offspring, other sections of the bill fail to meet this standard. Children born through donor insemination or from donor eggs are not given the right to know the identity of their biological parents.
The bill's preamble does not provide an acknowledgement of human dignity or respect for human life. Bill C-13 is intimately connected with the creation of human life, yet there is no overarching recognition of the principle of respect for human life. This is a grave deficiency.
Our minority report recommended:
That the final legislation clearly recognize the 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.
I would like to now move on to the area of the bill of most concern to the constituents who wrote to me from Skeena riding, and that is research using human embryos. With regard to research using human embryos, the bill would allow the experiment under five conditions.
First, only in vitro embryos left over from the IVF process can be used for research. Embryos cannot be created for research with one notable exception: they can be created for purposes of improving or providing instruction in AHR procedures.
Second, written permission must be given by the donor, although donor is singular, and research on a human embryo if the use is necessary, and necessary is undefined, and all human embryos must be destroyed after 14 days if not frozen. We have some concerns with some of those issues.
Embryonic research is ethically controversial and it divides Canadians. As an example, numerous petitions containing thousands of signatures have been tabled in the House calling for ethical stem cell research. Embryonic stem cell research inevitably results in the death of the embryo. For many Canadians this violates the ethical commitment to respect human dignity, integrity and life.
Adult stem cells are a safe, proven alternative to embryonic stem cells. Sources of adult stem cells include umbilical cord blood, skin tissue, bone tissue, et cetera. Adult stem cells are easily accessible, are not subject to immune rejection and pose minimal ethical concerns. Adult stem cells are being used today in the treatment of Parkinson's, leukemia, multiple sclerosis and other conditions. Embryonic stem cells have not been used in the successful treatment of a single person.
Research focus should be on the more promising and proven alternative. Our minority report called for a three year prohibition on experiments with human embryos, corresponding with the first scheduled review of the bill.
Bill C-13 states that embryonic research can be undertaken if the agency is satisfied that such research is necessary. During its review of draft legislation, the health committee recommended that such research should be permitted only if researchers can demonstrate that, “No other category of biological material could be used for the purpose of the proposed research”.
During the committee's review of Bill C-13, we tried to restore the spirit of this recommendation with an amendment specifying that healing therapies should be the object of such research. The committee rejected this amendment and the Speaker rejected it coming forward for report stage debate.
Bill C-13 specifies that the consent of the donor to a human embryo is required in order to use a human embryo for experiments. The bill leaves it to the regulations to define donor. However there are two donors to every human embryo, a woman and a man. Both donors should be required to give written consent for the use of a human embryo, not just one.
With regard to the regulatory agency, the bill outlines the following. It creates the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada to issue licences for controlled activities. A board of directors would be appointed by the governor in council. The bill was amended in committee requiring board members to have no financial interest in any business regulated or controlled by the bill. The health minister is now trying to remove one of the new clauses which she says would prevent almost anyone from serving on the board. An annual report, though not specified in Bill C-13, is required through clause 74, which adds Bill C-13 to a schedule of the Financial Administration Act. The agency would produce the annual report which would be tabled in the House by the minister.
The concerns that we have with clause 25 are that it allows the minister to give any policy direction she likes to the agency and the agency must follow it without question. If the agency was an independent agency answerable to Parliament, such political direction would be more difficult. The entire clause should be eliminated.
The Canadian Alliance proposed amendments specifying that agency board members be chosen for their wisdom and judgment. This was a health committee recommendation in “Building Families”. We want to avoid an agency captured by interests. 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 Bill C-13 review in committee.
The health minister wants to delete one of the clauses requiring board members of the AHR agency to come under conflict of interest rules.
The health committee got it right. Board members should not have commercial interests in the field of AHR or related research, fertility clinics and biotech companies. Imagine an employee or investor in a biotech company with financial interest in embryonic stem cell research making decisions for Canadians on the regulation of such research, including the definition of the word “necessary” as specified in clause 40. Or imagine a director of a fertility clinic making regulations on limits on sperm and egg donations, numbers of embryos produced for IVF treatment. Such conflict of interest needs to be prevented in this legislation.
The health minister says subclause 26(8) would prevent almost anyone from serving on the board. This was clearly not the intent of the health committee.
With regard to donor anonymity, Bill C-13 states that although the agency will hold information on donor identity, children conceived through donor insemination or donor eggs will have no right to know the identity of their parents without their written consent. Donor offspring will have access to medical information of their biological parents.
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 interest of children first. In this case they 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. The Canadian Alliance minority report said clearly:
--where the privacy rights of the donors of human reproductive materials conflict with the rights of children to know their genetic and social heritage, the rights of the children shall prevail.
This is absolutely essential.
When the issue came up during the review of Bill C-13, the Liberals defeated an Alliance amendment to end anonymity in a close six to five vote.
There are a number of other issues, however, in conclusion, I would like to say that with specific regard to these amendments debated today at report stage of Bill C-13, I will at this time be voting in favour of most of them.
However, with regard to the entire bill, I must reiterate that I have some very serious concerns which I have outlined here today. Unless and until those concerns have been addressed and the changes are made to the bill, I will be voting against it.
My vote against Bill C-13 will be made in good conscience, knowing that my party, the Canadian Alliance, has done everything in its power to try to improve the bill and knowing the government has once again used its majority in the House to push through what it knows is flawed legislation.