House of Commons Hansard #88 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was embryonic.


Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do agree with the member. I certainly do. Our researchers should take a look at that as well.

This is what I do not understand. Why have researchers not looked at this? Why are they going in the direction they are when they know, looking at all of the research that has taken place in other countries, that it does not work? Half of the frozen embryos do not even survive.

Mr. Speaker, would you freeze this young man sitting here? I would not freeze him. Glory be to God, I would not do that to anyone. I would go over and hug him. That is what I would do. I am sure the Chair would too. We would not do that to him or any of these other young people here. No, we would not do that.

Mr. Speaker, I say to you and I appeal to every one of my colleagues to defeat this bill. If they do, I will stand up and I will give them full marks. I will tell them they are wonderful. I will tell them they are great. Who knows, I might even vote for them in the next election if they do that. One never knows.

But it is a serious situation, one that brings tears to my eyes, it truly does, because I know, I have seen and I have friends who have adopted little ones. They are wonderful moms and dads. They truly are. I have to say that if this research is done with embryonic stem cells, then there will not be little ones to adopt. The hon. member on the government side says there are not enough children to adopt now and this will play a major role in making sure there are no children to adopt, that is for sure.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, in a now famous speech at Stanford University in September 1994, “Forgetting We Are Not God,” reminded his listeners that the greatest human folly occurred in the 20th century under those leaders in governments who had failed to understand “how unbelievably shortsighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God”.

We are engaged here today in a debate where it is well to remind ourselves of the folly of forgetting that we are not God, that when moral and ethical absolutes are lacking, great evil can be done, and if experience is our guide, almost surely will be done.

A fundamental failure in Bill C-13 is that it is ethically and morally neutral as to a preference between embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research. The bill does not, nor does the government, commit itself to substantial new funding for adult stem cell research. The bill and the government have tragically failed Canadians on this point.

First and foremost this is an ethical and moral debate because we are talking about human dignity. Much is at stake. We are shaping the future of what it means to be human in Canada. We cannot blindly follow the path of expedience, tailoring our understanding of human dignity to what is scientifically possible.

It is important to remember that scientific understanding does not render other forms of human understanding obsolete or irrelevant. The scientific understanding that the human body contains cells which in turn contain DNA does not trump a parent's understanding of a particular human as their child or a moral and ethical understanding of that child as a member of the human race.

Having a scientific understanding of the human body may be required to evaluate a proposed experimental medical treatment, for example, but it does not reduce a child to a collection of chemicals and cells.

In practice, any scientific understanding a parent may have is likely to make only a very minor contribution to their overall understanding of their child. Importantly, scientific information does not relieve even the most scientific parents of the obligation to make decisions regarding their children in the most comprehensive and just manner possible, as a scientist, as a parent and as a citizen, under the law and under God.

The same obligation holds on a larger scale for members of Parliament charged today with making legislative and policy decisions for society. Evaluating whether a highway should be built in Delta does not require a detailed understanding of how to pour asphalt in the rainy weather that we are often blessed with. Such an evaluation does require an understanding of where the road will lead and what purposes it will serve.

Similarly, evaluating public policy on genetic engineering, embryonic stem cells or human cloning does not require a detailed understanding of the underlying technology, but rather a willingness to weigh the issues raised by this technology in a broader social context without merely deferring to the judgment of scientists.

On moral and ethical issues, scientists are no more prepared to provide an intelligent answer than anyone else. In moral and ethical debates, the professional competence of the scientist is limited to a presentation of the facts.

Society has developed a collection of habits, customs and norms that assist us in making prudential and moral judgments when confronted with new experiences and situations. Prudential judgments are concerned with the practical assessments of risks and benefits: What are the most fitting means to achieve a desirable end? Moral judgments are concerned with the nature of right and wrong, with what should and should not be done in a free and democratic society. “Thou shalt not kill” is an example of a moral prohibition deeply ingrained in our culture that has led to the legal prohibition of murder.

In both prudential and moral and ethical matters, we have certain cultural guideposts that assist us in evaluating new situations as they arise. If someone proposed doing away with Parliament, we would instinctively know that this is an imprudent course of action. History tells us of the likely consequences of such actions.

If we witness one man shoot another on the street, we can rather quickly determine that one man killed another, and furthermore, if the shooting was not in self-defence, that this killing would be homicide.

In both cases we have clear cultural, historical and personal experiences that assist us in determining the proper course of action. But judgment based on past experience has its limits. As objects become further and further removed from the common experience, they also become further and further removed from the common wisdom that is culture.

Because modern science is in the business of discovering new things, it is constantly uncovering items that seem to defy our cultural coping mechanisms. Indeed, that is why we are engaged in this debate today.

Great claims are being made for the therapeutic and drug development potential of human embryonic stem cells and their derivatives. We are told that we are standing on the cusp of a medical revolution, if only the law will permit the necessary research on human embryos to be carried out.

The fundamental ethical objection is that the creation or use of embryos for research is wrong and their destruction indefensible. This implies two things: first, that embryos have a moral status; and second, that in a moral calculation we must appreciate that we violate the protected interest of embryos by deploying them for research or destroying them. Of these two points the first is critical, for, if this does not hold, the objection does not get to first base and it can only apply in an attenuated form.

The human embryo must be directly respected. It matters not that it cannot experience distress or make its own choices. It is not like a rock or a stone. It is a living thing and a member of the human species. As such, it must be protected by the overarching value of respect for human dignity. It has moral and ethical status and to treat it like a rock or a stone is to compromise human dignity.

Canada has always regretted doing the expedient thing rather than the right thing. We remember with shame the removal of Japanese Canadians from the fishery and the sale of their boats and equipment during the second world war. Similarly, we remember the refusal of our government to allow, in the days before the opening of the second world war, the entry into Canada of Jews desperately trying to escape Nazi Germany. Let us not repeat the errors of the past.

Why is a debate about embryonic stem cell research so fundamentally important? First, fundamentally the debate over embryonic stem cell research is about what a human being is, what rights a person has and what respect society owes that person. When people cannot agree on so fundamental an issue, terrible things can happen.

Second, this is an aging society about to confront many uncomfortable ethical dilemmas about vulnerable and unwanted people. What Parliament decides now about embryos sets a precedent for all subsequent legislation. It writes a guidebook for future debates about health and health spending.

The role of a scientist is to give facts. From the ethical and moral perspective scientists have done a marvellous job in giving us the facts, indeed all the facts we need to make an informed ethical judgment: embryos have a fully human genetic tool kit; given the right conditions an embryo will grow into a baby; and embryos are vulnerable and cannot survive without a favourable environment.

If the embryo is a person, it is the human rights, no matter how big it is or what it looks like. No person can be experimented on against his or her will. No person can be dissected for profit. This is a fundamental principle of a democratic society.

Regrettably, much of the debate on this issue has taken place on emotional grounds, pitting the hope of curing heart-rending medical conditions against the deeply held moral and ethical convictions of many Canadians. Such arguments frequently ignore or mischaracterize the facts. To arrive at an informed opinion on human embryonic stem cell research, it is important to have a clear understanding of precisely what embryonic stem cells are, whether embryonic stem cells are likely to be useful for medical treatments and whether there are a viable alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells in scientific research.

A single stem cell line can produce enormous amounts of cells very rapidly. For example, one small flask of cells that is maximally expanded will generate a quantity of stem cells roughly equivalent in weight to the entire human population of the Earth in less than 60 days. Yet despite their rapid proliferation, embryonic stem cells in culture lose the coordinated activity that distinguishes embryonic development from the growth of a tumour.

Much of the debate surrounding embryonic stem cells should be centred on the ethical and moral questions raised by the use of human embryos in medical research. In contrast to the widely divergent public opinions regarding this research, it is largely assumed that from the perspective of science there is little or not debate on the matter.

The scientific merit of stem cell research is most commonly characterized as “indisputable” and the support of the scientific community as “unanimous”, rather like their support for Kyoto. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the scientific advantages and potential application of embryonic stem cells have received considerable attention in the public media, the equally compelling scientific and medical disadvantages of transplanting embryonic stem cells or their derivatives into patients have been ignored.

There is no scientific consensus about the need for human embryo experimentation. The letter from a group of leading medical researchers to the Australian senate committee studying a bill somewhat similar to Bill C-13 is instructive. It reads:

We the undersigned medical researchers submit the following points for consideration of our elected representatives:

  1. While accepting that the debate about destruction of human embryos for research purposes is primarily an ethical one, it is relevant that from a purely scientific point of view, arguments claiming the urgent need for embryonic stem cell research are not compelling.

  2. Undue expectations have been created in the community, particularly in those with various medical afflictions, as to the imminence and likely scope of embryonic stem cell therapy.

  3. The community has not been properly informed of the scientific difficulties involved in developing embryonic stem cell therapies, which include major obstacles of immune rejection and cancer formation.

  4. Research using adult stem cells, by contrast, avoids issues of rejection and cancer formation, and has the clear advantage of being able to use the patient's own cells to repair any deficits.

  5. Such research on stem cells derived from adult and placental tissues, which has seen great advances in the last three years is quite compelling in its clinical promise, and does not involve the destruction of nascent human life.

  6. In proper medical research, “proof of concept” must first be established in animal models before moving to human subjects. Such proof using embryonic stem cells has not been established in any conditions such as Alzheimer's, MS, diabetes and Parkinson's which are so often part of public discussion.

  7. Therefore it is scientifically premature and improper to move human experimentation at this early stage of research.

  8. Consistent with proper research principles, we advise that there be a moratorium on the destructive use of human embryos until, if ever, animal models are able to adequately demonstrate “proof of concept”, and human safety issues have been adequately addressed.

There are at least three compelling scientific arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells as a treatment for disease and injury.

First and foremost, there are profound immunological issues associated with putting cells derived from one human being into the body of another. The same compromises and complications associated with organ transplant hold true for embryonic stem cells. The proposed solutions to the problem of immune rejection are either scientifically dubious, socially unacceptable or both.

The second argument against the use of embryonic stem cells is based on what we know about embryology. Failing to replicate the full range of normal developmental signals is likely to have disastrous consequences. Providing some but not all the factors required for embryonic stem cell differentiation could readily generate cells that appear to be normal but in fact are quite abnormal. Transplanting incompletely differentiated cells runs the risk of introducing cells with abnormal properties into patients. This is of particular concern in light of the enormous tumour forming potential of embryonic stem cells.

The final argument against using human embryonic stem cells for research is based on sound scientific practice. We simply do not have sufficient evidence from animal studies to warrant a move to human experimentation.

While there is considerable debate over the ethical, moral and legal status of early human embryos, this debate in no way constitutes the justification to step outside the normative practice of science and medicine that requires convincing and reproducible evidence from animal models prior to initiating experiments on humans. While the potential promise of embryonic stem cell research has been widely touted, the data supporting that promise is largely non-existent.

To date there is no evidence, none, that cells generated from embryonic stem cells can be safety transplanted into adult animals to restore the function of damaged or diseased adult tissues. The level of scientific rigour that is normally applied and legally required under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act and its regulations in the development of potential medical treatments would have to be entirely ignored for experiments with human embryos to proceed.

As the largely disappointing experience with gene therapy should remind us, many highly vaunted, scientific techniques frequently failed to yield the promised results. Arbitrarily waiving the requirement for scientific evidence out of a naive faith in promise is neither good science nor a good use of Canadian taxpayer dollars.

Despite the serious limitations to the potential usefulness of embryonic stem cells, the argument in favour of this research would be considerably stronger if there were no viable alternatives. This, however, is not the case.

In the last few years, tremendous progress has been made in the field of adult stem cell research. Adult stem cells can be recovered by tissue biopsy from patients, grown in culture and induced to differentiate into a wide range of mature cell types.

The scientific, ethical, moral and, some would say, political advantages of using adult stem cells instead of embryonic ones are significant. Deriving cells from an adult patient's own tissues entirely circumvents the problem of immune rejection. Therapeutic use of adult stem cells raise very few ethical and moral issues.

In light of the compelling advantages of adult stem cells, what is the argument against their use? The first concern is a practical one: adult stem cells are more difficult than embryonic ones to grow in culture. There is a concern that scientists do not yet know how many mature cell types can be generated from a single adult stem cell population.

In theory, embryonic stem cells appear to be a more attractive option because they are clearly capable of generating all the tissues of the human body. In practice, however, it is extraordinarily difficult to get stem cells of any age to do what we want them to do in culture.

There are two important counter arguments to the assertion that the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells is less than that of embryonic stem cells because adult cells are restricted and therefore unable to generate the full range of mature cell types.

First, it is not clear at this point whether adult stem cells are more restricted than their embryonic counterparts. It is important to bear in mind that the field of adult stem cell research is not nearly as advanced as the field for embryonic stem cell research. With few exceptions, adult stem cell research has demonstrated equal or greater promise than embryonic stem cell research at a comparable stage of investigation.

Further research may very well prove that it is just as easy to teach an old dog new tricks as it is to train a wilful and unpredictable puppy. This would not eliminate the very real problems associated with teaching any dog to do anything useful, but it would remove the justification for age discrimination in the realm of stem cells.

The second counter-argument is even more fundamental. Even if adult stem cells are unable to generate the full spectrum of cell types found in the body, this very fact may turn out to be a strong scientific and medical advantage. If adult stem cells prove to have restricted rather than unlimited potential, this would indicate that adult stem cells have proceeded at least part way toward their final state, thereby reducing the number of steps scientists are required to replicate in culture. The fact that adult stem cell development has been directed by nature rather than by scientists should greatly increase our confidence in the normalcy of the cells being generated.

There is clearly much work that needs to be done before stem cells of any age can be easily used as medical treatment. It seems only practical to put our resources into the approach that is most likely to be successful in the long run.

In light of the serious problems associated with embryonic stem cells and the relatively unlimited promise of adult stem cells, there is no compelling scientific argument for taxpayer supported research on human embryos.

Embryonic stem cell research goes to the heart of how we view human life, both at its earliest and its final stages. As in the case for all matters of life and death, this research raises issues that are both painful and profound. Resolution of these issues should certainly not be based on unfounded speculation and emotional exploitation of those desperately hoping for a cure.

The bill opens the door to the use of human life as simply raw material, to make objects and commodities out of life.

It is written that Moses, after he presented to the people of Israel all the law that God had given him, said this:

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you and your descendants may live....

Today we face the same fundamental moral choice. We must choose life.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for all of his work and research in presenting important information to the House. I would like to make a comment and ask a brief question.

My comment actually stems from a June 21 article in the National Post on the research of Dr. Catherine Verfaillie in which verified research recorded that adult stem cells could be morphed into hundreds of specialized cells inside the body. In commenting on that research, Dr. Alan Bernstein, the president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, called it a beautiful paper and indicated:

Aside from the ethical issues, if one could take one's own adult stem cells from bone marrow and use them to cure Parkinson's disease, you wouldn't have to worry about [immune] rejection problems. So this would be just a huge advance.

He also went on to say, “It looks like as a minimum one can say that the old view about embryonic stem cells having more potential than adult stem cells is going to have to be modified”. He certainly does support what the member presented to the committee.

My question has to do with the commercialization of this research. I wonder if the member would like to comment with regard to the fact that the Patent Act is not affected by this bill. Therefore the biomedical research and the commercialization of that research may in fact be a driving rationalization as to why they want embryonic stem cells more than adult stem cells. That might be one of the reasons. I cite Dr. François Pothier who told parliamentarians that in his view the reason they do not want adult stem cells is “because there is no money in adult stem cells”.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Mississauga for the question and for the marvellous amount of work he has done on this very important issue. He deserves to be commended for his efforts at making this issue understandable to many of us and to the Canadian public. I thank him for that.

I think that the fascination that science has with embryonic stem cell research is derived from two matters. The first one is money. It seems that money flows to the notion of embryonic stem cell research, not because it is more promising or has the potential to provide cures for diseases as we have discussed in our talks, but simply for the diabolical challenge of producing, I believe, another human being.

I think ultimately that is the fascination with embryonic stem cell research. I can see no other reason. It is either money or this diabolical thrill that will result from producing the first human Dolly.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for the work that he has done, as well as the member opposite.

Yesterday, April 9, we as Canadians officially declared that day to be Vimy Ridge Day. In doing so we recognized that close to 4,000 people died in that battle. They were all volunteers I might add.

Since that time, we have done nothing in Canada that I know of to remember those who have lost their lives prior to birth. I, along with a group from the Canadian Women's League, erected a monument in a small town in honour of those whose lives had been taken. That was a rare event, but I was proud to do it because Canadians must not continue down the road they are on at the present time.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were a couple of items I would have liked to have included in my speech, but as you may have noticed, there was a bit of a race to get it all done. My friend mentioned Vimy Ridge. I have a couple of quotes from France and Europe that are important.

Philippe Séguin, the president of the National Assembly of the French Republic, remarked in the mid-1990s that the trend toward the enactment of bioethics laws “illustrates a growing awareness around the world that legislators must, despite the difficulties, act to ensure that science develops with a respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights, and in line with national democratic traditions”.

That trend is further illustrated in the preamble to the Council of Europe's convention on human rights and biomedicine, which requires its signatories to resolve “to take such measures as are necessary to safeguard human dignity and the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual with regard to the application of biology and medicine”.

Lastly, even the European Union directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions calls for the need for patent law to respect dignity. It emphasizes this by proclaiming that “patent law must be applied so as to respect the fundamental principles safeguarding the dignity and integrity of the person”.

There is a very well-stated and profound feeling in the world that what we are talking about today says something significant about how we view ourselves as humans and how we view the human species. This issue and the vote, as I noted in my speech, will provide a guidepost, in a sense, on where we are going as we proceed down the road to making laws, whether in respect to abortion or ongoing variations of this particular issue about which we are talking.

We should be dealing with the fundamental issue of what it takes to be a human. That is the starting point. Unfortunately I do not believe the government has taken that into consideration in presenting the bill.

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12:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope others will have an opportunity to read the member's speech. It brought forward important considerations for all colleagues to deal with.

When the bill was tabled the minister commented that the bill would not permit the creation of embryos for research, but that if there are leftover embryos, why not use them for research? That seems to be a conflict of interest.

The process of in vitro fertilization was developed by medical scientists, by researchers. It appears that they are using drugs to make women hyperovulate and in fact create surplus embryos. It appears to me to be self-serving that, by this process, they are creating these embryos, which are creating a surplus, which are creating the supply for this research. This is contrary to the bill, because the bill says we should not be able to create an embryo for research purposes. This is a contradiction in my mind and a conflict of interest.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the terminology the member used is the terminology of the day in that leftover embryos are really leftover humans. I do not know any leftover humans but I think that is a dangerous road to walk down.

The issue is how do we define human life and what respect do we have for human life? That has to be the starting point of this debate because in reality that is the issue on which we will be voting.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

April 10th, 2003 / 12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I join in the applause for my colleague from Delta—South Richmond in his really brilliant remarks before this place. I think it was one of the most impressive interventions in this long debate. I gather this will be the last time that I rise on this bill. I have spoken to it several times, particularly at report stage, and I participated in some of the hearings of the Standing Committee on Health which studied the bill exhaustively.

I would like at the outset to commend all of those, including my friend from Mississauga South and particularly my colleague from Yellowhead, indeed the former member for Calgary Southwest and others, for having the courage and intellectual and political integrity to dig deeply into an extraordinarily complex issue, but one of great moral import. They have done what many other members have not in understanding that this bill is perhaps the most important that we will consider in the life of this Parliament. This is a bill that defines our values as a nation, which reflects whether or not Canada lives up to its true promise as a land of generosity and compassion and which respects inalienable human rights and human dignity.

I regret to say that the bill in its current form fails to live up to that standard. It fails to live up to what we aspire to be as Canadians, to be a welcoming and generous society to the weakest among us. The bill makes choices which are not necessary and which will lead to a further denigration of the inalienable right to life and the inalienable dignity of every human being.

Let me say at the outset what this bill seeks to do. I will then address what I regard as its deficiencies. I will finish with a meditation on my own voting intentions on this bill and how I have come to the conclusion that I have.

First of all, in my view the bill does contain many laudable elements. Among them is a prohibition on human cloning. Let me say parenthetically there had been some debate at committee and report stage about the efficacy of the bill's prohibition with respect to cloning. Indeed, some pointed to the testimony of Catholic University of America bioethicist Dr. Dianne Irving to the effect that the previous definition in the bill, the definition which stood when the bill was reported from the standing committee to the House, was insufficiently comprehensive to actually ban all forms of cloning technology.

Thanks to the member for Mississauga South, an amendment was adopted by the House which incorporated a far more comprehensive definition of what constitutes cloning. Consequently I am confident in asserting that the bill does indeed plainly ban cloning. That is clearly its intent. If the bill is passed and proclaimed, I believe that no malicious researcher, prosecutor or court could misinterpret the clear intent of Parliament to ban the odious, profoundly morally problematic technology of cloning.

The bill further bans the creation of human embryos for non-reproductive purposes, but there is a deep philosophical problem in the way that it does so, which I will revisit in a moment.

It prohibits experimentation on or usage of embryos after the 14th day of development. It prohibits manipulation for the purposes of sex selection. It prohibits other forms of genetic manipulation on nascent human life. It prohibits hybrids or chimera, although there is some question about the efficacy of that prohibition. I think it deals in an appropriate way with paid surrogacy. It prohibits the sale or trade in reproductive material and at least limits the momentum toward commodification of this technology in so doing. It would create, as we know, a regulatory agency to oversee research in these areas and to ensure the statutory prohibitions are respected, ostensibly in the promotion of “human dignity and rights” ethical principles.

Frankly, there is much to commend in the bill because today we have a complete and abhorrent legal vacuum in this country with respect to these technologies of manipulation of innocent, nascent human life. Legally, any one of these odious practices which regard the nascent human being as a means to a utilitarian end can proceed without any statutory prohibition or, indeed, regulation.

Clearly, twelve years after the report of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies and two and a half years after the tabling of draft legislation in this place to address the absence of a law, it is time for us to be seized of the threat posed to human life and, indeed, the possibilities offered by some of these ethical technologies. That is why we do need to pass some form of legislation with respect to many of the matters covered in the bill.

However, let me focus now on my profound objections to the deficiencies of the bill. First let me say that the bill is predicated on a false philosophy of man, a false understanding of who we are as human beings and what gives us our dignity, wherein lies our claim to certain rights. Let me quote, for instance, a central and operative clause of the bill, clause 5, in which paragraph 5(1)(b), under the heading “Prohibited Activities”, reads:

No person shall knowingly

(b) create an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being or improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures;--

This reflects a central flaw in the philosophy which undergirds the bill, in two respects. Saying that no person shall knowingly create an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being suggests by implication that one could create an embryo for a purpose other than that of creating a human being. This is completely illogical.

It is tautological to say that the creation of an embryo leads to the creation of a human being. An embryo is the product of the fertilization of the reproductive genetic material of a mother and a father of the homo sapiens species. It can be no other than the offspring of human parentage. It is therefore, biologically speaking, human, and it is a being. It has its own independent momentum. It has its own independent genetic code. It has its own identity. It is a separate, living, organic human being.

To suggest that an embryo can be something other than a human being is to argue against elementary biology, elementary science and, indeed, an elementary philosophical understanding of what man is.

The second philosophical problem in this clause, which reflects the entire ethical framework of the bill, is that it defines the value of the human being not in what it is, but in what it can do. It defines the value of the human being in a utilitarian context.

The bill states:

No person shall knowingly

(b) create an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being or improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures;--

What the bill states is that a human being can be created in vitro and can then have research performed on it, can be manipulated and can be destroyed. There is a verb that describes the destruction of a human life at whatever period, from its most nascent moment to its last possible moment of full maturity. When that human life is destroyed it is killed. To kill is the verb that describes the deliberate ending of a human life. Let us be plain about what we seek to authorize in the bill. We seek to give legal authorization for some, in the putative name of science, to kill human beings. Yes, they are tiny human beings, nascent human beings, human beings which offer no ostensible useful value to us, but human beings nevertheless.

Here lies the fundamental philosophical problem in the bill, which is this: Is a human being a means to an end which can be, under certain circumstances, even tightly regulated circumstances, regarded as a means to an end, or does the human being in every instance, from the moment of its creation, possess an inviolable dignity? This is the basic moral chasm that separates those who support and oppose the sorts of technologies which this bill seeks to govern.

For my part, I embrace the human view, the humane view, the moral view, that every human being possesses an inalienable dignity. In the words of one of the foundational documents of liberal democracy, the declaration of independence, words that can be embraced by people of goodwill in every culture: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men”, that is to say, all human beings, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”, amongst which is the right to life.

To say “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” may be a politically incorrect reference. It may be politically incorrect to suggest that there is a higher authority whence derives our inalienable dignity, but in my view there is no other possible source. Indeed, we reflect this ancient wisdom in the preamble to our own Constitution Act, 1982, which states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law...”.

That preamble, often dismissed and ignored, reflects the basic foundation of liberal democracy, which is that we possess inalienable rights endowed by an authority higher than ourselves, higher than the state, higher than any court, higher than any other man. And without such an authority endowing us with that dignity, then violence can be licitly done to that human dignity, which of course has happened with such reckless abandon in the history of the 20th century.

We now stand on the precipice of a new age of violating that inalienable human dignity if we permit these technologies that regard the human person as a means to an end, as a commodity for our use. If we embrace that ethic, then we continue the fundamental philosophical error of the 20th century that led to the deaths of so many. Let us not forget that the utilitarian ethic of biological sciences began in its most malicious form in Nazi Germany with the eugenics programs of the 1920s and 1930s.

Let us not forget that the first victims of totalitarianism in the 20th century were the mentally retarded, those deemed deficient, those who were seen as a means to an end, who did not possess in themselves an inalienable dignity but could be seen by scientists, and indeed by the state in that case, as simply human matériel to be used, whose biological material could be content for research and science in this glorious new age to improve the standard of of living of those of us deemed sufficiently perfect to benefit from that kind of manipulation of human life.

I submit that regarding the human person as a means to an end, regarding a human being at any stage of its development or existence as a legitimate basis for destruction in order to extract scientific knowledge or material, that basic error in this bill reflects the basic error of the Nazi eugenics program of the 1920s and 1930s. We must not go down that road.

What I say perhaps sounds extreme, because it seems so much more benign to simply extract a little tiny embryo the size of the head of a pin and manipulate it scientifically. After all, it does not look like a human person and it does not have the emotions of a fully mature human person, but it is a human person nevertheless. If we begin to make the distinction of what constitutes human personhood on the basis of external characteristics, the presence of personality or consciousness, then we enter a slippery slope, again which leads only to violence and destruction of human life and threatens the dignity of us all. That is my fundamental objection to the bill.

Let me say that for all of what I have said, I have seriously considered voting for the bill for the following reason: because, as I said at the outset, we currently live in a complete legal vacuum with respect to controlling the regulation of these technologies. As deeply imperfect as this bill is, I have been tempted to support it in order to enshrine in legislation such provisions as the ban on cloning, the prohibition of genetic material for the purpose of sex selection, the ostensible prohibition of human hybrids and chimera, the commodification of reproductive material, et cetera.

In this, I am governed by the moral teachings to which I make reference in these questions, and I quote from chapter 73 of the encyclical letter of the Gospel of Life by His Holiness John Paul II where he says that:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law... in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent...In a case [such as this], when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate an [anti-life] law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.

Governed by that, I and others in this place have sought to ameliorate this bill, have sought to improve it. I put before the House an amendment which would have had the effect of banning embryonic stem cell research and which, sadly, was defeated by a vote of 160 to 40.

Yet, after much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I will vote against this bill. I do so in the hope and belief that its defeat would compel the government to adopt the initial recommendation of the health committee to split the bill, to pass expeditiously those aspects prohibiting cloning and other of the most odious procedures and would allow us to draft a bill which more closely would reflect the values which I have outlined in my speech about the enviable dignity of the human person as it relates to embryonic stem cell research.

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12:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member not only for this speech but a number of speeches he has given on this issue. He obviously has a strong set of moral, ethical and family values which this bill does not share, and he is here to point out.

I agree with the member that this bill should be split but not simply for the sake of splitting it since we have come this far. We need to defeat the bill, split it out and come back with the bill on the prohibited acts simply because we could pass it at all stages very quickly and have it in force quicker than this bill could go through the rest of the process, with all the problems on other items, other than the prohibitions.

I also wanted to point out to the member that Dr. Dianne Irving and Dr. Ronald Worton have made representations to the health committee and to parliamentarians that this bill does not totally prohibit cloning and that a couple of techniques have slipped through the cracks, which is very serious because if the bill does anything, it should ban cloning.

Finally, with regard to chimera to which the member referred, the definition of chimera is an embryo into which a cell of a non-human life is put into a human life. That is for this bill. However the medical definition is putting non-human into human or human into non-human. It is both ways. This bill only prohibits the implantation of non-human cells into human life forms but does not prohibit the transplantation of human reproductive material into non-human life forms. The minister has admitted as much and has said that this is necessary research.

I want to assure the member that he has a lot of support in this place and that this bill should have been, and still can be, split to come back banning the basic prohibitions, which include banning cloning, genetic alteration, sex selection, the creation of hybrids, chimeras, as well as the purchase and sale of human reproductive material so we do not commodify human life. Life is too sacred.

Could the member comment on that?

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I concur and would emphasize once again that this is not simply the view of the member and myself but rather was the view, I believe overwhelmingly, of the Standing Committee on Health which spent several months examining draft legislation two years ago.

It is regrettable that the government should have sought the expert advice of that committee and the dozens of witnesses which appeared before it only to reject the principal recommendation, which was to divide the non-controversial prohibited elements of the bill, in particular from embryonic stem cell research.

If this bill passes, I hope our colleagues in the Senate will assert their legitimate constitutional prerogative and indeed reflect the democratic view of the health committee of the House of Commons to divide this bill so we can more quickly arrive at a prohibition on the most odious technologies.

Perhaps we can have a bit of an interlocution because we have a few minutes. I would like to ask the member, if he is perhaps going to raise another question, if he could comment on what he believes would be the legal disposition of embryonic stem cell research in the absence of the passage of this bill. In other words, would we or would we not have a more liberal environment which would permit more broadly embryonic stem cell research if this bill were not to pass?

This is a serious concern that I have had and I have raised this in good faith. If he is going to rise on another question, I would ask him to address that point to myself and others who are tempted to vote for an imperfect law, which is an improvement over the status quo.

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12:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member asks an important question. If we do not pass this bill, does it leave us in a regulatory vacuum and should we not have some rules?

We do have rules. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research have developed guidelines after an exhaustive research based on the royal commission findings back from 1993, as well as from the tri-council policy statement which was the best wisdom of scientists with regard to research on human beings. The CIHR guidelines embody all of that. Unfortunately, it only applies to publicly funded research but all other researchers respect that simply because it represents the vast majority of the body of science. Those guidelines are in force as of April 1 of this year, so currently embryonic stem cell research will go forward but it will go forward under, I believe, ethical guidelines.

With regard to whether or not it should be banned totally, that is still a question the House will have to consider.

My question for the member has to do with polling. I understand in the United States a survey of Americans with regard to embryonic stem cell research was done. They asked if people would approve of embryonic stem cell research to find potential cures and therapies for various diseases but to be aware that the embryo would have to be destroyed and there were ethical alternatives. Seventy per cent of Americans opposed the destruction of embryos for research because the embryo had to be destroyed and there were ethical alternatives.

In Canada a similar poll was taken but not all the information was given. It asked people to tell them if they were in favour of using embryonic stem cells to find cures to the illnesses and diseases of Canadians. Seventy per cent of Canadians said yes. However they did not have the rest of the information.

Could the member comment on that? When we use polls so haphazardly, it tends to give misinformation and maybe even mislead the public.

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the premise in the member's question that people if they are presented with the notion that embryonic stem cell research will definitely lead to vast improvements in medical research and therefore the treatment and potential cure of degenerative diseases, will tend strongly to support that outcome.

In my speech I made a moral and philosophical case against the legality of creating human beings for the purpose of their destruction. However one could just as easily and effectively, even if one does not accept the principles that I have articulated, say that there is at least some value, perhaps not an absolute value as I assert, in that nascent human life. Therefore we have to have a pretty extraordinarily high standard to manipulate it and destroy it.

I submit that all the research indicates that standard cannot be demonstrated. As other members here have pointed out, postnatal stem cells, non-embryonic stem cells, have led to demonstrable medical advances in patients dealing with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, severe combined immunodeficiency disease and forms of cancer.

I quote from the editor and chief of Stem Cells magazine from September 2001 who said:

I continue to think that clinical application [of embryonic stem cells] is a long way off for at least two reasons. Prior to clinical use of embryonic and fetal stem cells, it will be necessary to thoroughly investigate the malignant potential of embryonic stem cells. In addition, a much more comprehensive elucidation of the immune response is necessary to provide the basis to prevent transplanted stem cells and their progeny from being rejected by the transplant recipient.

In other words, what we are seeking to legitimize in the bill and fund through the agency is a proto-technology which is completely unproven to provide any medical advantage to any medical benefit and which in itself creates certain very significant hazards.

If Canadians, as the member points out, were to know those two facts, I believe we would see an overwhelming public opposition to the legalization and financing of embryonic stem cell research and enormous public support for increasing funding to and raising the profile of postnatal stem cell research. That is what we ought to do.

If we are really concerned compassionately about the victims of these degenerative diseases, then let us really put our money where our mouths are in terms of advancing postnatal stem cell research rather than lowering ourselves to the point of creating life in order to destroy it.

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12:55 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken twice on this subject. Before I do so again, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Mississauga South who has done a tremendous job of research to try to make us aware of various details in the bill that need to be looked into much more thoroughly.

The last time I spoke I mentioned the fact that all of us here certainly would draw a consensus in regard to human cloning. Without exception, I think all parties and all members in the House would agree that human cloning as such should be banned.

The last time I spoke I suggested there was a debate as to whether the aspect of human cloning, which is one of the key features of the bill upon which we all agree as a principle, might not be defined closely enough in the bill so as to leave no possibility of some form of cloning taking place. We suggested that amendments be made to tighten the definition of human cloning.

Unfortunately, the bill as it stands today leaves open this debate. It leaves open the possibility that the definition in the bill, as put forward by many who feel this definition is not thorough and complete, should be reviewed and revised.

I really hope if the bill should go forward, as I hope it does not in its present form, that this whole subject be reviewed completely and thoroughly by the upper house when it reaches there, if it does. I hope this whole question is reviewed thoroughly by calling witnesses so we can be completely aware. To pass a bill, which one of the main purposes is to prohibit human cloning, and not ensure that the definition is tight enough to completely ban cloning, would be to fail our duty as legislators and parliamentarians.

I know I clearly stand in a minority here, certainly a minority in my party. I probably stand as part of a minority among Canadians at large. If polls were taken today, most Canadians would support embryonic cell research. Some of my closest friends have written moving letters to me, asking me to back the bill because they believe embryonic cell research will change the lives of suffering relatives, a child in one case.

I am extremely conscious of the fact that human suffering has to be allayed and that we cannot dismiss research that will help do that. At the same time, I have this fundamental belief which is anchored in the fact that I believe human life starts at conception and includes an embryo. To destroy embryos willy-nilly, whether it be for a lofty purpose or a lesser purpose, is something I cannot accept in my convictions and in the belief system to which I hold.

I know how difficult it is when I am faced with omnibus legislation that contains some parts with which I agree totally, for example, the prohibition on human cloning, or the research on adult stem cells. To refuse to accept the whole bill because some parts of it are fundamentally against one's basic beliefs is not an easy decision to make. At the same time this is a decision I feel that I am bound to make because the very essence of this bill, as it relates to human life in all its forms, is denied when we say that research involving embryos in large numbers will happen because we will sanction it through this bill.

Were we to admit that embryonic stem cell research would be valid ethically, which in my case I do not, the least we could do in that case would be to adopt the recommendation of the health committee that ethical criteria be set within the bill so that research in embryonic stem cells be surrounded by parameters, by bounds, and by constraints so that there would be a set of markers and ethical guidelines in the use of embryonic stem cells.

This is what the health committee recommended. It certainly does not go as far as I would want because I do not want embryonic stem cell research in the first place. But even then, this suggestion, which to me is perfectly logical assuming that one accepts in the first place that embryonic stem cell research is acceptable, was rejected by the government.

There was also a suggestion made that a stem cell bank be set up. If a stem cell bank were set up, it would have the effect of reducing the need for embryos to be used in research. It would lessen the impact of the bill on embryonic research. But that again was rejected.

A definite conflict of interest would exist in the new agency that would be set up to oversee stem cell research in that we would allow representatives of the pharmaceutical and biotech companies to be part of the board that would licence biomedical research including stem cell research. If that is not a conflict of interest, I do not know what it is.

The last time I spoke I suggested that ethical guidelines be set up to ensure that there would be a set of parameters, a set of markers to prevent conflicts of interest. Research in these key ethical areas, to some of us moral areas, should not be undertaken without constraints, without clear ethical guidelines and prohibitions. Again, that was rejected.

It must be admitted that in the society of 2003 people who hold the beliefs that I do, wherever they may be, in the House of Commons or in society at large, are a minority. That, I concede. It does not make that minority necessarily wrong. A minority of one may still have the right on his or her side.

What I find sad and unacceptable is to say that the minority opinion which believes deeply and convincingly in life from the time of conception must somehow be viewed as being from another planet, from another century, or from ages past. It is dismissed out of hand as if it does not count.

There are reactionaries out there, however, I do not believe I am a reactionary. I do not believe I belong to another age. At the same time, I strongly believe that there are ethical and moral issues which are extremely profound in our society even though they may be held today by a minority of Canadians or parliamentarians.

I do not believe that this ethical and moral position that people hold strongly, whether they be in a minority or not, has been listened to by the powers that be regarding the bill. Somehow any suggestions made, including those of the health committee, have been dismissed out of hand, as if the powers that be in ethical and moral judgment know best and we, because we are in the minority, do not count. I do not find that fair and acceptable.

Even though we may be smaller in numbers the votes that took place at report stage showed that a large body of opinion shares our point of view. It may not be a point of view that is popular. It may be a point of view that is viewed by many as regressive. Nevertheless, it is a point of view that strongly believes that in matters of life there are ethical elements which go far beyond legislation in black and white forms. These beliefs, the ways of life, and the ways of thinking that certain people hold must be taken into account with sensitivity and certainly consideration.

We have asked time and again to have the bill split so that the cloning part of the bill would be on its own. I think we would find overwhelming support for the bill to go through and it would go through so rapidly that at least it would show that there is a tremendous consensus on one large clause of the bill to ban human cloning. I think that it is important that it happen as soon as possible.

By making it an omnibus bill and joining controversial issues which the powers that be knew to be controversial from the start, and would present ethical and moral dilemmas for many members here, as was shown by the votes last week, it seems to me that in fairness there should have been far more regard and consideration to the points of view of that minority. There are, after all, a number of parliamentarians who represent a point of view which cannot be dismissed out of hand because it goes deep into belief, conviction, and a way of thinking that at least some of us think is right.

If this bill were to clear the hurdles because of the majority in place, then I would take my plea to the upper House because that is its role. Its role is not just to pass legislation rapidly, to simply obey the dictates and say Bill C-13 must go through as soon as possible because it is part of the big plank of the government. The Senate must do its work in looking at all the objections that many of us have brought forward here and not to be obstructive. From our point of view it must have objectivity and conviction in looking at these points of view, and review the bill and call as many witnesses as possible to address the fair points of view on the other side which we have brought forward.

For example, is the definition of human cloning really watertight or is it not? Are the people and experts who say that it is not completely invalid in their thinking or do they have a point? Should it be heard? Should we not find out before we pass a bill in its final form that we have heard all sides of the story? If those questions have to be answered once more, that is the job of the upper House. I ask it to find out whether we are going too fast into many areas, such as embryonic stem cell research, and all the pitfalls that have been brought forward by my colleagues, particularly the lack of ethical guidelines within the advisory board, et cetera. I ask it to look at all these things.

Once this bill is passed, so much is left to regulations that will take at least two years to be issued. We are accepting a bill with many phases of it still hidden in the dark. Certain regulations will not come forward until two or three years. These are the issues that we would ask the upper House to look into more deeply, if by any chance this bill were passed. We would ask it to do its work properly, call witnesses, and hear the points of view of all parliamentarians in the House who have brought forward their objections and convictions and, in fairness, be taken into consideration as well.

This is my plea today. I hope that Bill C-13, an important bill for most of us whatever our conviction, becomes a bill that represents the point of view of not only a majority but takes into account that many of us, and I am one of them, feel deeply that there are still many flaws in the legislation. Those concerns need to be addressed. Passing the bill just because of a majority will not be sufficient to allay the preoccupations, concerns and deep feelings that we are going in the wrong direction.

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1:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for taking the time to inform himself and to share his views and opinions on the bill. He is a well respected member in this place.

The member spent a great deal of his intervention raising the spectre about whether the bill adequately defines the prohibition of human cloning. The member should know there is a dispute. It is confusing to me that this would be a matter of opinion. One parliamentarian gets up and says that it bans all cloning. Another one says no and cites expert research. I would have thought this was an objective determination rather than my word against someone else's.

I agree wholeheartedly with the member that the upper chamber must resolve this by consulting with objective authorities and experts. Dr. Dianne Irving said that the bill, as it presently stands, would not prohibit the following forms of cloning: first, pronuclei transfer; second, formation of chimeras and back-breeding; third, microcondria transfer; and fourth, the use of DNA-recombinant gene transfer, also known as eugenics.

We had an expert in Dr. Dianne Irving from Georgetown University in Washington who made submissions to the health committee but she was not called to amplify on her written submission nor was she given an opportunity to appear before the committee. Should the Senate not only be encouraged but instructed to resolve what has turned out to be the appearance of a disagreement between members of Parliament because we are not the experts? Our opinions are not relevant if we are not trained in the science. What we should be doing is calling whatever witnesses that would be necessary to objectively analyze the bill.

For example, our definition says that a human clone is obtained from a single living or deceased human being. The bill passed by the U.S. house of representatives in February, bill H.R. 534, said that it was derived from cells from one or more human beings.

Our definition, therefore, clearly disagrees or is in conflict with the U.S. definition in the bill that it passed. Clearly there is evidence that there could be a problem and we have to resolve it on an objective basis.

Having said that, I would be most interested in the hon. member's comments.

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1:15 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

In my view, Mr. Speaker, the upper house is there to review bills and make sure they become watertight if by any chance there are loopholes left by the House of Commons.

I know of many bills, and many of them are of far less importance than this one, that have been looked into deeply by the Senate. Witnesses have been called. Sometimes bills have lagged on for months in the Senate. One current example is the cruelty to animals act which has been tied up in the Senate for many months.

It would seem to me that on an issue as fundamental as this one, especially in light of the suspicion that the definition of human cloning, among many other issues, is incomplete and leaves gaps, that the least the Senate can do is to carry out a very thorough examination of the bill, including calling witnesses, such as Dr. Irving, and other objective specialists, as my colleague suggested, who can shed light on this key question and not only this key question but all the other issues relating to the bill that have been controversial in the House of Commons and have left us with many questions in our minds.

I think it would be terribly sad on a bill of this importance if the Senate were to whitewash it and say “Oh, well, the House of Commons has pronounced itself. It's fine. We need it. Let's pass it overnight and that's it”. That would be a tragedy because if there is one bill that has a key importance, not just for us here but for all Canadians, and which sets certain guidelines for the future in a difficult ethical and moral areas, it is Bill C-13.

I agree completely with my colleague from Mississauga South that the Senate should do a thorough review of the bill, including calling witnesses on the definition of human cloning and all the other issues for which we have been left with many questions.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has been in the House for a considerable length time and has lived in Canada for a considerable period of time.

My question is about how the bill, if passed, will change the ethics of a nation. The principle we have lived under is that respect for human life is a Canadian value. One of the fundamentals is the protection of human life, regardless of how vulnerable it is.

This legislation changes our ethics. In it we are prepared to destroy life for the sake of research. Therefore, instead of protecting human life we are prepared to destroy life for the greater good of society. It changes the whole foundation on which we built the law for which Canadians have come to respect and enjoy.

If we were to apply that principle, the health care dollars that will become precious as we move forward in the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, we could perhaps say that grandmothers at a certain age should not have treatment, perhaps the mentally challenged should not have treatment, or perhaps the handicapped should not have treatment because it is a different ethic.

If the ethic is for the greater good of society, we cannot afford it. I know that sounds extreme but does my hon. colleague not see the change of ethic that we will be vaulting ourselves into if we allow this legislation to go forward the way it is?

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1:20 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, there has been a trend in society to feel that people who question many of the so-called progressive and popular notions of human life are today regressive and out of touch.

We had a debate in the House on euthanasia perhaps two years ago. I remember the debate surging forward again. We can almost sense a trend in society that we are moving gradually toward the position of Holland. Many people hold the position, as the government of Holland does, that euthanasia should be permitted legally.

I believe that human life is so precious that once we start to play with the notion that it is acceptable to deal with it so long as the end justifies it for the greater good of society, I think we are on a very slippery slope.

In the case of euthanasia, I made the point myself that I have a severely retarded child. He cannot speak, cannot hear too well and has tremendous health problems. He goes for dialysis three times a week. The judgment call from the hospital was that since he is a so-called unproductive member of society and is severely handicapped should he take the place in dialysis of a healthy human being? I applauded the doctor who decided that he should be given the same shake as anyone else in society.

One day when I am gone and he is 60 or 70 years of age will the people who are in place then judge that his life is so useless, that he is suffering, that maybe for his own sake he should be let go? I will not be there to defend his interests and he will not be able to speak for himself.

I suggest to members that the minute we start playing with matters of life and death, the minute we start to say that people who have deep ethical and moral feelings and convictions about life are passé, that they are of another generation, that they do not see it, I think we are on a slippery slope.

If I were the only one standing here, and I know I will not be, and my views were being viewed as reactionary or belonging to the deep past, I would not care. I really think the most precious thing we can fight for at all times is human life in all its forms.

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1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to rise to speak today following the member for Lac-Saint-Louis and his comments on his personal situation. I have heard this before from the member. He has a unique outlook on the protection of those in our society who cannot protect themselves.

I am not sure how much belief he has that the Senate will do the right thing with this bill. I would have more confidence if the Senate were not loaded up and appointed to such a degree that there is a majority in the Senate who support the government's wishes. I believe if the Senate were elected and equal we perhaps would have a chance to do something here, but I am not sure that will happen under the present situation.

Bill C-13 is a very troubling to speak to because there are things we support and things we oppose. We have had thousands and thousands of names on petitions tabled in the House on this issue. Many Canadians have become involved, have made themselves knowledgeable on the issue and have offered input. We certainly do appreciate that.

When we get into the protection of human life and the creation of life to destroy it for the benefit of another life, it becomes very complex and gets into the whole idea of respect for life and respect for health situations. When we get into cloning we talk about ethical issues. It gets more and more involved as we go on.

This goes back 10 years to the royal commission's report on new reproductive technologies. However, in the early stages, it was brought to the House by the former member, Preston Manning. He was our lead on this, and I have mentioned this before. He brought together experts from across North America I believe, if they were not all from Canada, to talk about the human genome and the mapping of the human being. It was a very informative session. It was not a committee meeting. It was an exploratory meeting, a seminar type of issue. People were brought forward to give their various views, and there were various views. Even with the scientific and medical communities, people had diverging opinions on this issue.

At that point in time I became aware of the complexity of the entire issue, especially when we start dealing with ethics, morals, science, health, the good of man and all of these issues. When one boils it down to try to make it into a piece of legislation, it is not an easy thing to do.

I do want to thank all those across Canada, and certainly in my riding, who brought their opinions forward on this bill on both sides. Some support some aspects of it and some do not support other aspects. It is not cut and dried as to the opinions that are brought forward for various reasons.

One of the things we keep hearing from members is the fact that this bill should have been split up. The things that we all agree on, we could agree on quickly and get into legislation. The other issues, which are controversial, we could spend more time on and have more public debate and input so we could really come to a conclusion after a more indepth analysis of the situation.

I would like to mention a few things. There are many issues in this bill, but in the short time I have I will try to deal with some of the things we do support, some of the things we do not support, some of the reasons we do support them and some of the reasons we do not support them. One of the things we fully support, of course, is the ban on reproductive or therapeutic cloning: chimeras, animal-human hybrids, sex selection, germ line alterations and the buying and selling of embryos. Those are cut and dried. The banning of those items is something that I think we would be able to quickly put through the House because there would be a vast majority of Canadians who would support the banning of all of that.

This may seem strange coming from a party that believes in less government, but in this instance we do support a regulatory body to monitor and regulate fertility clinics. However we want to see some changes in the bill. This is important. If we get into a situation through fertility clinics where more embryos are created than are needed to satisfy what then becomes a market driven issue, a supply and demand type issue, we get into the whole issue of creating life for profit, which would go into research that would destroy life.

We do oppose the human cloning aspect of it because we feel it is an affront to human dignity, to individuality and to the rights of a person. I have tried to wrestle with this. We have dealt with animals being cloned, but for the life of me I cannot understand why anybody would want to clone a human being. I think some of this lends itself again to creating what could be considered a half life, somebody who just has organs and the things that can be harvested for transplants, but would not be considered a full human being. That is of deep concern to me. I do not think we should ever start down that road.

We brought forward a motion back in September 2001 and tabled it at the health committee. It called on the government to immediately ban human reproductive cloning. However that was dismissed. The government preferred to have an indepth bill brought forward to deal with all the issues of reproductive technology, so here we are today with a bill that we are struggling to get through, to understand and to point out that some of it we respect and support and some of it we do not.

In the preamble of the bill some of the highlights are that the health and well-being of children born through assisted human reproduction must be given priority which, of course, almost goes without saying, and that human individuality, diversity and the integrity of the human genome must be preserved and protected. This is what is in the preamble. The concern we have with some of it is that some of it sounds good, but if we look at it closer, without definition and without more clarification, it becomes somewhat confusing.

We support the recognition that the health and well-being of children born through assisted human reproduction should be given absolute priority. The health committee came up with the ranking of whose interests should have priority in decision making around assisted human reproduction and related issues. These are listed in what the health committee considered to be their priority. Number one of course is children born through AHR, assisted human reproduction; adults participating; and researchers and physicians who conduct the research.

While the preamble recognizes the priority of the offspring, other clauses of the bill fail to meet this standard. Children born through donor insemination or through donor eggs are not given the right to know the identity of their biological parents. We will get into that a little bit further. That is important as a person progresses through life.

In my personal situation, we needed to find out, for health reasons, who were the parents of an adopted member of my family just to be sure we could understand some of the things that were going on. Doctors like to know too what our parents and grandparents went through so they know what to watch for and what problems may arise. It is important, when needed, to be able to find out who they were for health reasons.

The preamble of the bill does not provide for an acknowledgement of human dignity nor respect for human life. That is important. It should be in the bill. It should be clarified. Without question, it should be addressed.

The bill is intimately connected with the creation of human life, yet there is no overarching recognition of the principle of respect for human life. We feel that is a great deficiency that needs to be addressed.

Our minority report attached to the committee report states that the final legislation clearly recognize that the human embryo is a human life and that the statutory declaration include the phrase “respect for human life”. We have included that in our minority report. It was not part of the main report; it was part of our party's attachment. We believe that the preamble and the mandate of the proposed agency should be amended to include reference to the principle of respect for life.

When we get into the research using human embryos, the bill states that it would allow for experiments using human embryos under four conditions.

One, 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 the purposes of improving or providing instruction in assisted human reproduction procedures. That is where we get into the whole regulatory issue. How many embryos would be produced for the IVF processes? Would there be more produced than necessary knowing that there would be a market for them?

Two, written permission must be given by the donor. We think it should say “donors”. It takes two to create an embryo. That singular term is troublesome and should not be there. It should be plural.

Three, the bill would allow research on a human embryo if the use is necessary. Necessary is a broad word which is not defined and it should be.

Four, all human embryos must be destroyed after 14 days if not frozen.

That is what is in the bill. Those are the four instances where a human embryo would be allowed to be used in experimentation.

I will expand on some of our concerns. Embryonic research is ethically controversial and divides Canadians. Numerous petitions have been tabled in the House on this issue. Most of the petitions that I tabled asked that we explore the use of adult stem cells first before ever going into embryonic stem cell research. We also actually called for a three year moratorium on any embryonic stem cell research while the adult research was further investigated. Embryonic stem cell research inevitably results in the death of the embryo, early human life. For many Canadians this violates an ethical commitment to respect human dignity, integrity and life.

There are some other issues having to do with the research using human embryos. Adult stem cells are easily accessible. They are not subject to immune rejection and pose minimal ethical concerns. Embryonic stem cell transplants are subject to immune rejection because they are foreign tissues. Adult stem cell use for transplants typically are taken from one's own body.

That is something that we do not really consider when we are looking at it. If we use an embryonic stem cell and put it into another body, that is foreign tissue and anti-rejection drugs would have to be used forever.

Actually there has been no successful use of an embryonic stem cell but there has been lots of good progress using adult stem cells. They are being used today in the treatment of Parkinson's, leukemia, MS and other conditions. It is important to note that is happening and is successful. We should put our emphasis there.

We should explore all avenues of expanding adult stem cell research before we ever go near the other. It states in our points that embryonic stem cells have not been used in the successful treatment of a single person.

We did call for a three year moratorium or a prohibition on experiments with human embryos and this corresponded with the first scheduled review of the bill. Our amendment to this effect was actually defeated at the health committee.

There are a number of issues to deal with regarding adult and embryonic stem cells, such as their differences and in which direction we should go. We have clearly stated our position that we should be dealing with adult stem cells. More experimentation needs to be done to explore the advantages that can be derived from that before we go any further into the embryonic stem cell area.

There is also the issue of donor anonymity. That is an important issue to me for personal reasons and for many other various reasons. The bill 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 to reveal it. That seems a little strange to me. Then it states that donor offspring will have access to medical information of their biological parents.

In order to get into that research to find out who one's parent were and what their situation was, one would have to have written consent from them. It does state that there would be access to medical information if required, but I will have to clarify that as it is a little confusing.

Donor offspring and many of their parents want to end the secrecy that shrouds donor anonymity and denies children knowledge of an important chapter in 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 the children. We say it should be the other way around.

In our minority report, we stated:

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.

We went on further in our report and stated that the government attaches a higher weight to the privacy rights of donors than to the access to information rights of offspring. In my mind this is backward.

An identified donor is a responsible donor. If all donors were willing to be identified, then people would donate for the right reasons. Today, one main motivation for anonymous donation is money. Here we get into the whole aspect of this becoming a profit driven industry, and all for the wrong reasons.

There are other points that we in the Canadian Alliance have issues with. We feel that this is an issue of conscience, an issue of ethics and an issue of morality. There must be a free vote by all parties on this issue. We as members of Parliament must be given the opportunity to vote on this according to our conscience. I know Canadian Alliance members will be given that opportunity. To date that indication has not come from the government side. I believe there is a lot of support for this on that side of the House. This should be a free vote. All members should be allowed to vote as their conscience dictates.

I do not know if there will be another opportunity to speak to the bill before the debate collapses. I appreciate the opportunities I have had. I have risen to speak to this piece of legislation three or four times. It is not an easy issue. Hopefully as it progresses further through the system we will still have an opportunity to amend it and make it better and more acceptable to all Canadians.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-13 is a very important bill. It is a bill which still has some controversy surrounding it in terms of whether or not cloning is actually banned in all its forms and all its techniques.

There is still some controversy surrounding the efficacy of drugging women to the max to harvest embryos and create surplus embryos for research. This is a major concern to people in terms of surrogacy for profit and also in terms of embryonic stem cell research which requires the destruction of embryos.

I have quite a number of questions for the member. If other members want to ask questions that is fine, but there are more questions I would like to ask.

My question has to do with some provisions that are not in the bill but which I believe should have been included in it.

In terms of conflict of interest, the bill provides a provision whereby if a board member of the agency has a relationship with either a licensee or an applicant for a licence, that person cannot be a member of the board. The health committee changed the bill to expand it to anyone who had a pecuniary interest in downstream activities so there would be no conflict of interest. The report stage motion put forward by the minister overturned the committee's work, and we are now back to someone who has a relationship with a licensee or an applicant for a licence.

My concern is with regard to the board members who will license and authorize research. In its present form after the reversal of the committee's work, Bill C-13 would permit pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies to be represented on the board of directors. This concerns me.

I will leave my question at that and ask the member for his comments. If there is time left, I would like to ask him another question.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Mississauga South for the question and certainly for his work on the bill. It cannot be easy to do what he and some of the other members on that side of the House have done over the last little while. They are working hard to contravene a decision or some of the choices which their government has chosen to make. It is good they are able to do that. It will be interesting to see how that develops as we progress through this.

When we get into the whole issue of conflict of interest of who can or cannot be on the regulatory board, it just stands to reason that anywhere through this whole process if someone has a monetary advantage of being close to the regulatory board, then that should be a conflict of interest. That person should not be allowed to sit on that board.

The whole idea that this could become an industry is very troubling. Anything in the regulations or through this agency and its mandate that stops that from expanding is good. We see people with dollar signs in their eyes when they deal with this issue and that needs to be brought in line.

I certainly hope that carries through. As the member has indicated, that has been reversed at committee. However the conflict of interest has to be in there to keep people from being put into positions of responsibility and authority who would eventually have some benefit from the process that exists.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair will recognize one more spokesperson on this matter before we move to member's statements. I do confess to having somewhat shortened the question and comment period but I think if members look at my record over time, I have stretched it at times too. The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to stand and speak in support of this bill. The bill is a result of a royal commission having spent over two years travelling this country, bringing about recommendations that would lead to the making of the bill. That was over 10 years ago. During those 10 years, three subsequent ministers of health in this government also consulted with groups, with experts and consulted broadly among themselves in an effort to bring about this bill. The bill also was discussed by the Standing Committee on Health, which also made recommendations.

This bill is a composite of all the best advice that the government could get in balancing a technology that has been in existence now for over 15 to 20 years, that has been completely unregulated, that has no ethical barriers or boundaries on it and that is continuing to carry on without any restrictions or regulations whatsoever.

It is important that we do not delay any longer, over the 12 years that we have been dealing with this issue, and that we get onto at least a set of regulations and guidelines.

The bill is not perfect. I would hazard to say that I know of no bill that is absolutely 100% perfect. However it has struggled to take all the advice of all of the groups, including the Standing Committee on the Health, to bring about the bill and to find a balance between the good that this technology and research can do against the risk of harm and unethical behaviour. That is what we must always seek to do. That is why I support the bill. I think it has managed to find that clear balance to deal with some of these issues.

The bill took the advice from the Standing Committee of Health of which I was a member. The advice and the recommendations, many which were made by the standing committee in its amendments, were extremely important. For instance, the committee made significant amendments on the establishment of the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada. It raised the age limit for surrogate mothers to 21. It made it explicit that the health and well-being of children be a priority. It added an anti-discrimination clause. It rejected cost recovery in the issuance of licences. It enhanced parliamentary oversight to include a review of regulations and a mandated three year review of the legislation. It removed the ability of the board of directors to delegate licensing decisions. It added a specific authority to regulate the number of children that could be born from a single gamete donor. It strengthened information requirements to ensure the agency must provide to the public on risk factors that may lead to infertility. Those are substantial amendments which the committee made and which were incorporated in this bill.

Some members criticized the government by trying to overturn only three substantive amendments that the standing committee put forward on Bill C-13. Having accepted so many amendments, those three were not accepted. The member who brought up the concern about this was also known to say that he was very impressed with the quality of work that was done by the committee and that the report on the draft bill was the best report he had ever seen.

Why did the member put forward over 51 motions at report stage that in effect would have completely overturned the work of the committee and the long 13 years of work of the royal commission, of the minister and of public hearings?

Let me just touch on some of the concerns people have had on this bill.

They are concerned that research comes out of the work on reproductive technology such as stem cell and embryonic stem cell research. There is an argument that we should not allow for that research to occur or we should only allow adult stem cell research to occur and not allow embryonic stem cell research.

I know been many quotes from a lot of people who have done this research that have been used to suggest that these researchers do not want embryonic stem cell research. However I would quote from those same researchers.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, president of the CIHR, said that he thought this legislation was a model for the world. He said that it balanced the ethical and social concerns that the Standing Committee on Health had expressed with the potential or promise of these cells to cure disease.

Dr. Freda Miller, who does research on adult stem cells said:

--my fear is that my work with adult stem cells, which may not come to fruition, would be used as a rationale for halting the work on human embryonic stem cells...if the adult stem cells don't come to fruition, we're left with nothing.That is my biggest fear as a scientist, that my own work won't pan out and will be used as justification to stop something that actually does look like it will pan out, because embryonic stem cells have been put into adult animals and shown to generate the right cell types.

The work of embryonic and adult stem cells has the potential for in fact stopping a great deal of human disease, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and for being able to regenerate and doing a whole lot. Most important, they have the ability to stop mortality and morbidity in human beings.

Knowing this is the good work that comes out of this research, we must continue to do the research. Recognizing that as always in any science there is the good and there is the potential for harm, we must clearly build an ethical and regulatory framework that would allow the research to go on but that would protect and prevent the harm that could come out of this research. The bill finds that exact balance.

I wanted to also say that the member for Yellowhead has quoted Dr. Catherine Verfaillie from the University of Minnesota whose leading edge work is demonstrating increased flexibility in adult stem cells. Dr. Verfaillie has reached the exact opposite conclusion. She agrees that we must continue to use both types of research, both embryonic and adult stem cell in order to move forward.

The member for Mississauga South stated that Worton, who is the CEO and scientific director of the Ottawa Health Research Institute, is likely to become a Nobel laureate for his research in health. His work is much respected in Canada, and certainly by the health committee. I agree with that statement, so let me quote Mr. Worton on his November 19 presentation to the Standing Committee on Health. He said:

--the most likely that no one cell type will be the magic bullet for all types of therapy...therefore it would be premature to eliminate research on one of the most versatile cell sources to date, and that is the embryonic stem cells.

We can see that all researchers, even the ones who have been quoted here, are very much in favour of continuing this basic research on the two lines of stem cells, but with strong regulations.

We have heard that the bill will allow cloning, chimera and pathogenesis. The bill specifically prohibits it. In my last speech regarding this issue in the House of Commons, I spoke to the scientific data and the scientific truth of how the bill would ban cloning, pathogenesis and chimera. Therefore some of these fears are not really true.

The bill states that there is a concern that the bill will lead to commodification. The bill specifically bans the commercialization of donors of any kind, whether they be ova, sperm or gametes. One thing I did was bring forward an amendment to the House, which the hon. member from Mississauga suggested was a most unusual thing to do. However the hon. member from Mississauga brought 51 amendments in the same way, over the same period of time and in the same manner that I did.

My amendment does not commodify surrogacy. It recognizes that only in a very limited and clearly prescribed instance, when during the process of a pregnancy there is considered to be medical harm to the fetus or to the mother and if a physician specifically intervenes with bed rest and that person has to take time off work, that on certification from that physician and specifically and only when the mother and the fetus are at risk, that person should be reimbursed for time lost from work. That is all that my amendment does.

Finally, the bill seeks to keep the balance that our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms seeks and that is to assist and recognize the disadvantage of minorities and balance it with the public good, and the bill does that. If it is not passed we will be left with nothing and we will have people continuing to do this research and reproductive technologies with no regulations or guidelines.

Vatche ArslanianStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to pay tribute to Mr. Vatche Arslanian, a Canadian who was killed on Tuesday while working for the Red Cross in Baghdad.

Growing up in Armenia, he immigrated to Canada from Syria in 1975. Mr. Arslanian became an artillery officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, a town councillor, and the deputy mayor of Oromocto, New Brunswick, before he joined the Red Cross in 1999.

Once in Baghdad, he was quoted as saying:

The most satisfaction you get is helping people. It's something that touches the heart; it gives you great satisfaction.

Mr. Arslanian's courage and compassion for humanity is admirable, and the ideals for which he worked so hard provide an example that we would all be so fortunate to be able to follow.

I would ask the House to join me in extending our condolences to Mr. Arslanian's two younger sisters and his mother. We will all miss Mr. Arslanian.

IraqStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, today we are beginning to celebrate the liberation of the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein was responsible for the death of over one million people and his grip on the people is gone.

It is true that lives have been lost in the conflict, military and civilian lives on both sides. This is sad and regrettable, but unfortunately, unavoidable. We need to thank our American and British allies for being willing to put their lives on the line and in some cases to give their lives to stand between the tyrant Saddam and his victims.

Saddam's torture chambers are shut down. No longer will men, women and children have to suffer in ways so horrendous that I cannot even bring myself to describe them explicitly. Lives have not been given in vain. We cannot bring back those who have already died, but thousands, maybe millions more, of his future victims have been saved.