Mr. Speaker, this is like a pregnancy. I wondered whether this would ever happen. We are all aware of the ups and downs this bill has put the House through.
Perhaps I should point out at the outset that the Standing Committee on Health, to which the bill was referred, has worked long and hard on Bill C-13. This is a bill with a history: it was previously introduced as Bill C-47, which died on the order paper, then came back as Bill C-56 in 2000, and we now have Bill C-13, which we are debating.
The Bloc Quebecois has always had concerns about certain prohibited procedures. I am thinking about cloning in particular. In the mid 1990s, the hon. member for Drummond, whose riding is located in the heart of Quebec, put forward a bill to prohibit cloning for reproductive and therapeutic purposes.
This is an aberration, an odd situation brought to the fore by the whole Clonaid episode over the holiday season. Some of our fellow citizens were under the impression that they were protected against any attempt at cloning by a public or private laboratory.
Unfortunately, we had to disillusion them when it became our duty as parliamentarians to explain that, if a public or private laboratory had, indeed, succeeded with human cloning experiments, as the Raelians implied, for example, unfortunately, there were no provisions in the Criminal Code that could have led to any legal action against those who were guilty of genetic manipulation, up to and including human cloning.
Very early in the history of the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Drummond was made aware of this issue. It was because of her sensitivity not only to the cause of women, but also to the entire issue of respect for human life, that she came to present a bill which, as we know, did not have the support of the government.
It was all the more incomprehensible because, in 1989, a royal commission was set up. The Baird commission of course recommended that legislators ban practices like cloning. The royal commission was a very important moment for those who are interested in such issues, because 293 recommendations were made.
We might ask ourselves this question: How is it that there were recommendations and that there was a royal commission? We know that a royal commission is not a trifling matter. It is set up by the Privy Council and its budget is quite substantial. A lot of research was done and scientific studies were carried out. Why is it that we have had the information we need for creating legislation since 1990, and it is not until 2003—13 years later— that the House is going to be asked to vote on this matter?
The government's attitude has definitely been rather lax. There is certainly no cause for satisfaction. This is one more issue on which the Bloc Quebecois has been particularly vigilant.
When I said that the Standing Committee on Health had devoted much time and energy to the issue of assisted human reproduction, it is important to remember that, as early as 1991, the then Minister of Health, now the Minister of Industry, had introduced draft legislation. Even before the official introduction and first reading of a bill by a minister of the Crown, the Standing Committee on Health had been asked to give its views on a number of issues. The bill asked us to validate a certain number of hypotheses with respect to the preamble to a bill like this one and the type of regulations that should be implemented. I will have the opportunity to discuss this later.
The committee considered six possible regulatory models, and selected a semi-autonomous agency, appointed by the Governor in Council. We would have preferred the board to be equally represented by both genders. The government did not retain this recommendation, but the board does have a certain degree of autonomy.
During review of the draft legislation, we were asked to reflect on the whole issue of prohibited and regulated activities, and various mechanisms for accountability that I will have an opportunity to explain shortly. However, Bill C-13 is characterized by the fact that the regulations are more important than the bill itself.
Most of the 26 major decisions about reproduction, manipulation and assisted human reproduction treatments, while covered in the bill, will be set out in the regulations. That is why the committee was strongly advised to ensure that the regulations would be subject to periodic review and would be referred to the Standing Committee on Health. As happened with the bill, public consultations will be held when the committee considers the regulations.
One question greatly concerns the Bloc Quebecois, which we naturally discussed in caucus. The Bloc Quebecois believes it is necessary for the Criminal Code to include provisions criminalizing certain practices. First and foremost, of course, is cloning.
But what is the approach? The Bloc Quebecois in defending the interests of Quebec—which is what brings it here—unfortunately had to oppose this bill at the report stage. Why so? I will explain, because we have received a number of letters and inquiries from the public in this connection.
Although we were in favour of this bill in principle, the Bloc Quebecois cannot vote in favour of such a bill. And why not? Because Bill C-13 intrudes in areas that are fundamentally under the jurisdiction of the provinces.
The Government of Quebec, through its health minister François Legault, has written the federal Minister of Health asking that this bill not be passed, that it not be followed up on in the House of Commons.
A list has been made of all the legislation passed by the National Assembly that is incompatible with Bill C-13. I will have an opportunity to come back to that list but I will touch on it briefly here. There are about a dozen acts, and of course the most important is the Quebec civil code. It contains certain provisions that are incompatible with the issue of surrogacy.
Bill C-13 is also incompatible with the Act respecting health services and social services, as well as with the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies; the Act respecting the protection of personal information; the Act respecting medical laboratories; Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, including the whole area of confidentiality of some nominative information; the medical code of ethics; the guidelines of the Quebec health research fund, commonly known to people in the field as the FRSQ; not to mention the ministerial action plan on ethics and scientific integrity, which was published by the former member for Vimont on behalf of the Government of Quebec. This is all very disquieting.
Come to think of it, all treatments for infertility take place in laboratories located, naturally, in hospitals, university research centres and, occasionally, in private clinics. The best known such clinic in Quebec is, of course, PROCREA.
Why should the federal government interfere in what basically amounts to the delivery of services in health care facilities that come under the various provincial governments? Naturally, it is doing so through the Criminal Code, because of certain illegal procedures.
If the Canadian government had put before the House of Commons a bill to criminalize only a few procedures, namely the 13 prohibited procedures I will list in a moment, we in the Bloc Quebecois would have voted for such a bill with enthusiasm and our well-known sense of responsibility.
We felt so strongly about this that when we resumed our work here in January, I moved a motion inviting the government and the entire House to split this bill. However, the government rejected this idea, which is why we are now bogged down with this bill. We have been discussing this issue since May 2001. In fact, we have been discussing this topic for several years now. The federal government could have simply prohibited a certain number of procedures.
What is the reality? The member for Trois-Rivières also explained, through a motion that he moved in the House, that the government wants to use health to do some nation building. That is what the Romanow report proposes, naturally, and Bill C-13 is a good example of this. That said, there are still a certain number of important provisions.
Let us start with what are arguably the most important clauses found in the bill, clauses 5, 6 and 9. They render a number of procedures illegal. Therefore, if it can be proven, either before an inspector or a court of justice, anyone who is involved in any of these prohibited procedures could be brought to court under criminal charges by the crown, which could lead to either imprisonment, or a fine of between $200,000 to $500,000. The seriousness of these offences is reflected by these heavy fines.
So, what are these prohibited procedures? Of course, creating a human clone. This is an ethical issue. Incidentally, this bill deals with a variety of considerations, such as ethical and medical considerations, in addition to family law, and of course, administrative considerations as well, all at the same time.
Why is it so important to prohibit human cloning? What is cloning? First, it is a medical procedure where the nucleus is removed from somatic cells. This cell is taken and another nucleus is added, and it is then fertilized. With the help of the maturation process, it is hoped that the cell will have a new nucleus containing new genetic material, which will lead to the birth of a child that has a genetic makeup identical to the genetic makeup of the person from whom the original cell was used. That is cloning.
Cloning was first tried, with mixed results, on animals. I say with mixed results because the committee was told that the consequences for cloned animals, naturally, were extremely serious, the most immediate being premature aging and, of course, premature death. So, no animals have been successfully cloned, and this, obviously, does not encourage us to try human cloning.
But there is an ethical side to cloning. No one wants to live in a society where, in the name of humankind, we can biologically bring about the creation of two humans with identical genes. No one wants that.
I saw public affairs shows on TQS, for example, where the Raelians said, “Yes, but there are twin brothers”. Of course, there are identical twins. This is a natural phenomenon. It is called homozygotic embryos. I have an identical twin brother myself. This makes some people happy and some sad, each of us is entitled to our own opinion, but the fact remains that this was not forced on nature. It is a natural phenomenon. Some people say that there is really no such thing as identical twin brothers, because life, through our personality, ensures that each of us is very different. For example, my twin is heterosexual; I, as you know, am not. We are pretty much alike in our sense of humour. But we are very different in every other respect.
My twin brother is greatly interested in sport and a little less intellectually inclined than I. We do, however, share a similarly refined sense of humour.
It is not true, then, that identical twins with the same genetic baggage, homozygotic twins that started out from a single cell, from a single egg, are alike in every aspect.
The question raised by human cloning is what it will mean for psychogenesis, the psychological development of the child. How can a parent raise a child knowing he or she is the duplicate of the parent, knowing they are genetically identical? Scientists came to testify that, on the psychological level, at every stage of personal development, this poses a risk for human development. This is prohibited by the bill as a result.
The second procedure that is prohibited in the bill is the creation of an embryo in vitro for purposes other than the creation of a human being. We would not want to live in a society where embryos were created solely for research purposes.
This does not mean—and I will have an opportunity to explain further when we reach the clauses on regulated activities—that if there are surplus embryos as part of the initial activity of fertilization, for example if four are created, that a person cannot donate them for research purposes with informed consent.
Research on embryos is definitely necessary, but the bill says that a person could not turn up and announce that he wanted to use medicine to create an embryo solely for research purposes. This is prohibited in the bill.
An embryo cannot be created and then maintained outside of a woman's body, i.e. in vitro, for more than 14 days. The basis for this is that the main international conventions state that the nervous system begins development on the 15th day and it can then be dangerous to keep an embryo outside a woman's body. This is prohibited.
There is another important prohibition that is also related to ethical considerations. It is forbidden to use sperm screening and selection to choose a child's sex. A father cannot announce that he wants a girl, or a mother announce that she wants a boy, and then make use of medical and genetic means in order to ensure that this happens.
Why is this prohibited? It is prohibited based on the values found in both the Quebec and Canadian charters. The first of these values that govern the legal and human community is the equality of individuals. We do not start from the pretext that women are superior to men or that men are superior to women. Given that there is no such superiority, it does not make sense that the bill would contain mechanisms that would officially allow people to choose the sex of a child. That is why it is prohibited.
There is also an important prohibition that bans any alterations to the germ line. The germ line refers to hereditary characteristics that are passed down from one generation to the next, or that skip one generation, in the case of certain deadly diseases that we know of.
We do not want to live in a society where people can have their children tailor-made. It should not be possible to say, “I want the genetic tools that will allow me to have a blond girl with blue eyes, who will be a good painter, or artist, or ballet-jazz dancer”. Accordingly, the bill stipulates that it will not be possible to have tailor-made children, nor will it be possible to select hereditary traits by altering the germ line.
Obviously—plain common sense dictates this—transplanting sperm or ova into another form of life, other than human, will be prohibited. Implanting human reproductive material that has already been transplanted into another form of life is prohibited. This is known as the creation of hybrids, or chimera, and it is clearly prohibited in this bill.
Another prohibited procedure that attracted a great deal of attention in Quebec is surrogacy, or surrogate motherhood. This reminds us that this bill is designed to deal with an empirically observed situation: one out of every five couples experiences fertility problems. This situation is not expected to improve in the near future. Often, environmental factors cause hormonal imbalances that may affect the ability to procreate.
Some people say we should live in a society where a couple can ask a woman with no fertility problems to bear a child.
A number of nuances or clarifications could be made on the issue of surrogacy. Let me make the following. We have been told that a surrogate mother artificially inseminated with sperm from the father who hired her is called a genetic surrogate. A surrogate mother could also carry an embryo created through IVF using the hiring couple's gametes. In this instance, the surrogate mother is making her uterus available, but there is no genetic contribution.
So, surrogacy poses quite a complex ethical problem, because one might think that women own the children to which they give birth. They do not. Pregnancy has to be an altruistic act. Women who bring children into the world with their spouse must do so, whether it was planned or not, because of their desire as a couple to raise a family.
There are therefore major inconsistencies between the bill and the civil code. Even if these were the only inconsistencies, the Bloc Quebecois would have to vote against the bill. There are, however, many more, which I will point out.
In this respect, a provision was included in the civil code of Quebec a few years ago. If I am not mistaken, it is section 541. It provides that agreements for surrogacy for payment are null and void. This means that, in Quebec, under the civil code, if I ask a woman to bear a child for me, I will have absolutely no right in the unborn child. As far as the mother who bore the child is concerned, the regular lineage rights—the parental authority, and all that it means for a mother to have responsibility for a child—apply.
This is where we find out how well I know the civil code. I would be willing to bet that it is article 541, just after the provisions on adoption, which says that agreements regarding surrogate mothers are absolutely null. I will read the passage in question:
Any agreement whereby a woman undertakes to procreate or carry a child for another person is absolutely null.
That is article 541 of the civil code. The lawmakers of Quebec did not wait for Bill C-13 to be passed; they put these provisions in the civil code.
But now we see that Bill C-13, in clauses 6 and 12, says there are certain situations in which surrogate mothers can be reimbursed. That is quite sad. I do not know how we are going to settle this before the courts. Will it be the civil code or Bill C-13 that prevails?
Bill C-13 says two things. It says that it will be possible to recognize surrogate mothers who do this as an altruistic gesture. But is it not strange to see written in a bill that it will be possible for a woman to carry a child for someone else? Might that not make us think that children are perceived as a kind of property and that women are the owners of children? Should we not be seeking other ways to respond to people with fertility problems? Of course, reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, are one such way.
Research is needed into the causes of infertility related to the endocrine system. Domestic or international adoption is also a solution. It is, therefore, somewhat aberrant that we find ourselves with such a bill in 2003.
The Bloc Quebecois held its convention this past weekend, and it was a great moment for democracy, Mr. Speaker. We missed you a bit, but you can always come next time. We discussed all these issues in workshops.
One of the great specialists in Quebec, Professor Louise Vandelac—whom you may have heard of— is very well known internationally. Although she has also researched GMOs, her main concern is the life sciences. She told us, “It is incredible that such a thing could be happening in 2003” and added, “in the country of Margaret Atwood”, referring to the English Canadian novelist and writer. She continued, “How can English Canada, the Government of Canada, turn up in 2003 with Bill C-13 in which it is acknowledged that a woman has the right to call upon another woman to bear a child for her?” This does not, of course, make any sense.
It does not stop there, however, Despite the fact that the Quebec has adopted as part of its civil code—in the mid-80s if I remember correctly—the section I have read, section 541, still clause 12 of this bill opens up the possibility of reimbursing surrogate mothers for altruistic purposes. It is true that this bill—and I must be honest about this so that those listening to us will not be misled—says that payment for surrogate motherhood is totally forbidden, that is if someone wanted to pay another to have a child.
This is one of the 12 procedures I have referred to which can lead to prosecution and to imprisonment or a fine of $500,000. Nevertheless, it is possible to bear children for others and the federal government will recognize surrogate motherhood agreements. Clause 10 even contains provisions for certain expenses of surrogate mothers to be met.
So, hon. members will see the incompatibility here, the value choices. Ethical decisions have been made by the National Assembly, but will not, unfortunately, be respected by the Canadian Parliament.
This whole issue of surrogacy is a very serious one. Once again, I have no idea how this will be settled by the courts. We had hoped that the federal government would not get involved and that the provinces would be in charge, as is already the case in Quebec.
This pretty well covers the issue of surrogacy agreements, the importance of which is well known. I think I have also demonstrated how these do not comply with the civil code of Quebec.
I thought I had a good half hour remaining, seeing that I have barely started my speech, but I will come back to that in due course, because I am getting the signal that I have only 10 minutes left.
The bill addresses the whole issue of controlled activities. No one is saying that there should be no research on embryos or infertility. The agency that will be established will receive $10 million a year and bring together individuals who, we hope, will not only have expertise but also reflect a range of backgrounds, to include not only members of the scientific community but also users. The agency will issue licences for research. Researchers who demonstrate that a need exists, that research cannot be conducted using existing reproductive material, and that the research is validated by an ethics committee and based on a serious protocol, will qualify for a licence.
This opens the door to the use of stem cells. That is why our colleagues from the Canadian Alliance have been opposed to this bill all along.
What are stem cells? The embryo sac, which is created a few hours after conception, contains stem cells. Researchers do not agree on the number of them. Some American researchers say that there a hundred or so, and Canadian researchers say that it is more like 300. For the purposes of my speech, we will say that there are between 100 and 300 of these stem cells. These cells have not decided what their future holds and they are able to contribute to the rebirth or regeneration of any tissue, whether it be tissues found in the heart, arm, or anywhere in the entire body.
This is extremely valuable, and unlike adult stem cells, they are not in blood, or produced in bone marrow, but are found in the embryo sac. As a result, they are easy to extract, and they can obviously be used to help people with major degenerative disorders. We have heard about Alzheimer's, cerebral palsy, juvenile diabetes and other diseases.
This is why big associations that do fundraising for this type of research explained how important it is that this bill contain regulated activities to allow for this type of research. Carrying out this type of research that uses stem cells destroys embryos.
Depending on how one defines a human being, some people say that by destroying embryos, you are committing a crime against humanity, that the embryo is a potential human being. I respect this point of view, but I do not share it. The Supreme Court clearly established that a human being is a fetus once it is outside the mother's body and has taken its first breath.
People will recall that there were a number of legal challenges on this. It might have been nice if it were legislators who had made the decision, but the abortion bill introduced by the Conservatives ended up being unique in terms of our legislative work. In fact, in the Senate, the other house, there was a tie vote. It was referred to this House. There was no conclusive vote, and there was a legal vacuum until the Supreme Court issued a judgment and ruled that an embryo was not a human being.
To be logical, from a legal point of view, if an embryo is not a human being, then we cannot, as legislators, consider any of its constituent material as a human being. That is why I was in agreement. It is not the part of the bill that I am most concerned about. Of course, that will not stop me from supporting ethical issues. I believe stem cell research must carry on, because it is important to make life better for the people who are suffering from degenerative diseases.
I have mentioned the 12 prohibited activities. The controlled activities are specified in clauses 10, 11 and 12. They would include research on embryos or reproductive material in accordance with the regulations and a licence. Any research carried out without the proper licence would be in violation of clauses 5, 6 and 9, which I referred to earlier.
Among the issues raised during our work was the type of donations that could be made. As I said, with this bill, we want to meet the needs of those with fertility problems, which affect one out of every five couples. People with fertility problems may want to go for treatment, either insemination or in vitro fertilization. For this to happen, donors have to go to a hospital or to some institution authorized to receive their donations. I am talking, of course, about the people who donate sperm or ova, what is called gametes. Interestingly enough, there is a shortage of sperm in English Canada. The sperm banks are empty.
As for Quebec, for perhaps other more sociological reasons and also because the regulations are not quite identical, there are fewer difficulties in ensuring a supply of sperm.
Of course, Mr. Speaker, sperm donors cannot be older than 40. This has excluded you for quite some time. At the same time, sperm donors must undergo all kinds of medical tests. The sperm is tested for genetic defects or disease. Obviously, some very important tests need to be done.
The committee asked itself the following question: if you are a donor and you go to a hospital or clinic, would you be required to reveal your identity? If you are going to donate sperm, must you identify yourself? Currently, donations are anonymous.
The parliamentary secretary will remember that many people made representations, including children born as a result of assisted reproduction, from anonymous sperm donations, and they said, “This is called the right to know who you are”.
For human development, it is not desirable, they told us, to not know who the donor is. I was moved by one individual who testified that when she was in grade five in a public school in English Canada, her teacher asked all the students in the class to do their family tree. You know the drill. Our family tree allows us to discover our ancestors and understand who we came from. This is obviously important to the formation of our identity. This person, born as a result of an anonymous donation, told us what a wall she had run up against, how she felt as if she had come from nowhere, how important it was to her for donations to be anonymous but not the identity of donors.
The opposing opinion says that, in donating sperm or eggs, the donors are not making any attempt to raise a child nor any attempt to raise a family. Those who oppose identity disclosure for donors said, “Yes, but is there not a risk if I donate sperm and the child born is viable, when that child reaches 16, 17 or 18 he will seek financial support from me as the genetic father and donor”.
People were worried about that. That point of view prevailed, so thoroughly that, according to the bill now before us, the regulatory agency must gather information on donors. Of course, it must gather identity data, and other information in order to maintain records, but it is not mandatory to divulge the identity of the donor.
Naturally, this has created discontent and disappointment, but there is a way to solve the problem. Quebec has solved it, as have Nova Scotia and Yukon. Thus, there are three legislatures where laws have been passed and the laws contain provisions that, in the case of children born through medically assisted reproduction, donors can never be considered genetic fathers having parental responsibilities. Three provinces have done this. Obviously, it lies within the area of family law. It is not up to the federal government to create such legislation, but this could have been done.
So, that is a question that has been asked. The systems created in some countries make it mandatory to divulge identities. I can think of Sweden, Australia, New Zealand and Austria, among others.
Mr. Speaker, I think my time is running out, but because of the importance of this debate, and in consideration of the excellent work I did in committee, could you please ask for unanimous consent to allow me 10 minutes more to complete my speech. I will not take advantage of this, but I would then feel we had addressed the issue completely.