Madam Speaker, I am pleased to debate Bill C-47, the new reproductive and genetic technologies act.
Many people in Canada today live with the knowledge that they are at risk of passing on a serious sex related disorder to their children. They have witnessed at close range the devastation that these disorders, for example hemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, can wreak on those who suffer from them and on their families and friends. For many the only alternative to the risk of
passing on the disorder that is acceptable to them is not to have children at all. That is a very high price to pay.
The development and availability of prenatal diagnosis and other technologies which permit couples to find out the sex of an embryo or fetus have meant that they can for the first time make informed decisions about whether and under what circumstances to have children.
There are some people, however, who have strong preferences for children of one sex, not for health reasons but solely for personal or cultural reasons. The same technology that provides such profound assistance to couples who risk passing on genetic diseases, the families who are facing potential tragedies, can also be used to satisfy the desires of people who for varying reasons strongly want a boy or a girl.
Using technology to try to predetermine the sex of an embryo or, even worse, using prenatal diagnosis simply to choose the sex of a child is a practice which I believe is abhorrent to the majority of Canadians.
The government examined the issue carefully and concluded that there are serious grounds upon which to prohibit sex selection for non-medical reasons. The practice puts vulnerable people at risk, particularly children and women. It contravenes our country's commitment to equality between the sexes. It is an inappropriate use of medical resources.
For these reasons Bill C-47 makes it illegal to use technology to try to influence the sex of an embryo or to determine the sex of a fetus.
When we talk about sex selection we are talking about three different uses of technology, each with the same goal. The first method of sex selection takes place before conception. An egg, fertilized with X bearing sperm, leads to the birth of a girl. One fertilized with Y bearing sperm leads to the birth of a boy. It follows that if the X can be separated from the Y the likelihood of having a child of the desired sex can be increased. Once separation has occurred the gender of a child can be predetermined.
This method of sex selection is not always effective, but there is enough of a market for it that two private clinics have been opened in Canada, as well as clinics in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
The second method of sex selection has arisen from the practice of in vitro fertilization. IVF results in the creation of embryos outside the body, usually more embryos than can safely be transferred back to the woman's body. Some criteria are necessary to decide which embryos should be transferred to the womb. A technique called pre-implantation diagnosis involves removing several cells from an embryo while it is outside the body and examining them for the presence of chromosomal or genetic disorders. Embryos with any disorders obviously would not be implanted.
The pre-implantation diagnosis can also be used to determine the sex of the embryo. Those who have strong preferences for the sex of their child can arrange for the embryos of the desired sex to be transferred back to the woman's body. The first two methods are used before pregnancy has been established.
The third method is used much later in the development of the fetus. Prenatal diagnosis, usually amniocentesis or ultrasound, can be used to determine the sex of a fetus.
Protecting vulnerable members of society including children, respecting the Canadian commitment to sexual equality and ensuring that medical resources are used appropriately are the principles underpinning the prohibition on sex selection for non-medical reasons. Sex selection renders children vulnerable to a range of harm. The impact of sex selection on children's emotional well-being can be profound. It is not he alone who bears the burden imposed by sex selection. Siblings can also be harmed by the belief that they are not the right sex and that they are not as deserving of their parents' care and love. Children's self-esteem and sense of self-worth are fragile. The knowledge that their parents prefer a child of the opposite sex can do untold damage and the effects can last a lifetime.
Women can also be made vulnerable by the use of sex selection technology. Some women, particularly those from cultures where male children are more highly valued, have been subjected to pressure to use sex selection techniques to ensure they give birth to sons. This pressure can take the form of threats of marital breakup and violence. We are not as far removed as we perhaps thought from the days of Henry VIII.
Women representing minority communities have made great efforts to resist pressures for sex selection within their communities and to promote the wider adoption of fundamental values such as sexual equality.
The government does not want to undermine or compromise its efforts. Respect for cultural differences cannot be used to justify coercion. Countries where preference for male children is strong have seen a skewed birth ratio since the advent of prenatal diagnosis with many more males born than the normal birth ratio of about 51.5 males for every 48.5 females.
There is little evidence that the availability of sex selection for non-medical reasons could have as significant an impact in Canada. However, the consequences of even a relatively small change in the ratio of males to females are not known. In the absence of this information it would be foolhardy to risk tampering with ratios that have developed over thousands of years of human existence to allow for the continuation of our species.
For those reasons sex selection is sex discrimination. Society should not allow technology to be used to promote some arbitrary standard of the ideal family as consisting of both sons and daughters.
Sex selection techniques involve the use of limited health care resources. Except for sex related genetic disorders they are not medically necessary services. They do not treat or avoid disease. Nor do they promote human health.
People in this country view their health care system as one of the defining elements of being Canadian. To squander such a precious resource in ways that are ethically questionable would be wrong. The government is acting to ensure this does not happen.
After much consideration and consultation with stakeholder groups, the government has come to the conclusion that sex selection is so unacceptable to Canadian values and to the health and well-being of Canadian children that it cannot be provided.
Sex selection offends notions of sexual equality and of protection for the vulnerable. It has the potential to harm vulnerable women and children. It could have unknown impact on population health in the future should a skewed sex ratio be the result. It is an inappropriate use of our finite health care resources.
For all these reasons the government is prohibiting sex selection for non-medical reasons through the new reproductive and genetic technologies act. I am pleased to speak in support of the bill.