Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on Bill C-13. This is one bill that needs much thought and consideration because of its ethical issues. Our answers to these ethical questions will help to define our society.
Bill C-13 is related to reproductive technology. The bill is a very broad bill and contains many areas of concern to Canadians, including cloning of human beings, therapeutic cloning and the importing and exporting of human gametes. There are numerous issues that need to be considered before the passing of the bill.
In Bill C-13 there are some excellent statements already in place, but there are others that need to be thought out and revised. I fully support the bans on reproductive and therapeutic cloning, chimeras, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, germ line alteration, the buying and selling of embryos, and paid surrogacy.
Just because we are now able to do something in reproductive technology does not necessarily mean we should. Human life is like that of no other creature on this earth. There are additional dimensions to the human life because of the human ability to think, to feel and to have all kinds of emotions. Human life is valuable and should not be treated lightly.
I also support the proposal that there should be an agency to regulate this sector. Although changes still need to be made, the people who would sit on the board of directors of the agency would be selected through orders in council, which needs to be subjected to some form of scrutiny. Currently there are not enough checks and balances in place for regulating the agency. With this issue and many others, we need to be aware of the conflict of interest. This situation needs to be avoided at all costs by not allowing any oversight of the board of directors when it comes to the agency.
I support the recognition that the health and well-being of children born through assisted human reproduction, or AHR, should be given priority. However, the priority of AHR and other sections of the bill fail to meet my standards. The bill specifies that the consent of the donor of a human embryo be required in order to use a human embryo for experiments, but the bill leaves it to the regulations to define “donor”. On top of this, there are two donors to every human embryo, a woman and a man. Both parents should be required to give written consent for the use of a human embryo, not just one.
I believe that the children born through donor insemination or from donor eggs should be given the right to know the identity of their biological parents. These sperm and ovum donors make a conscious, intentional choice to assist in the creation of life. This is contrary to adoption, where a decision to adopt a child is usually made after an unintentional pregnancy has begun. These children would be deprived of their history and the roots of either their biological mother or father. Such a vital chapter of the child's life would be denied.
There are other questions that also arise. How would people know that they were not marrying their brother or sister? If their biological heritage were unknown, then how would they know? This could all be avoided if we were to just tell the truth. An identified donor is a responsible donor. If all donors had to be willing to be identified, then people would donate for the right reasons, not for money.
Dealing now with the issue of embryonic stem cell research, embryonic research is an ethical topic that divides Canadians. Embryonic stem cell research always results in the death of an embryo, an early form of human life. To many Canadians, this is murder. This violates the ethical commitment to respect human dignity, integrity and life. There is also a very high chance that the body would reject the embryo because it is foreign tissue and subject to immune rejection. As well, even if medical therapies had been developed using human embryos, people might refuse them if they do not believe that this is ethical.
Why would embryonic stem cell research be able to continue in Canada when we know that adult stem cells have already been proven to be far superior?
Adult stem cells are very easily accessible and are a proven alternative to embryonic stem cells. The huge advantage is that they are not subject to tissue rejection and pose minimal ethical concerns.
With adult stem cells, there is usually tissue taken from a person's own body. Adult stem cells can be taken from the umbilical cord blood, skin tissue, bone tissue and other areas. This would eliminate the years of anti-rejection drug therapy that embryonic stem cell patients would require.
Adult stem cell researchers have already found many great possibilities with adult stem cells. They say that some day adult stem cells could replace bone marrow transplants in humans and also that stem cells circulating in the blood stream could grow new tissue in the liver, gut and skin. At Duke University Medical Centre, researchers have already turned stem cells from knee fat into cartilage, bones and fat cells. At the University of Minnesota it has been shown that adult bone marrow stem cells can become blood vessels.
Today, adult stem cells are being used in the treatment of Parkinson's, leukemia, multiple sclerosis and other conditions. However, embryonic stem cells have not been used in the successful treatment of a single person. Researchers need to be focusing on a more promising and proven alternative like adult stem cells rather than ethical non-proven embryonic stem cells.
Turning now to the issue of the regulatory agency, there is a problem with the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada not reporting to Parliament but only to the minister. It should therefore be made an independent agency.
In Bill C-13, clause 25 allows for the minister to give any policy direction to the agency and it must in turn follow it. The clause also ensures that everything must remain secretive. This clause could be completely eliminated if the agency were an independent agency answerable to Parliament.
I strongly feel that the health minister has it all wrong with wanting to undo committee amendments to subclauses 26(8) and 26(9). The clause requires that the board members of the assisted human reproduction agency must come under the conflict of interest rules. On the other hand, the health committee got it right in saying that the board members should not have commercial interests in the field of assisted human reproduction or related research.
I hope that members will consider seriously that there are amendments to the bill that need to be changed while others should be supported. This issue has many ethical concerns and needs to be treated with great care. It is also a matter that needs to be taken very seriously.