But future of bill is in doubt as Senate prorogues

On Oct. 28, the House of Commons passed Bill C-13, the federal government’s long-delayed and fundamentally flawed reproductive and experimental technologies legislation, by a vote of 149-109.

Liberal backbencher Paul Szabo (Mississauga South), who spearheaded efforts to stop the bill and who has studied the issue probably more than any other elected representative in this country, told the CBC, “I have spent two years doing my homework on C-13 and it is my opinion that C-13 is not a good bill, but in fact, a fatally flawed one.”

Szabo, other pro-life politicians and other citizens opposed C-13 because it permits destructive research on embryonic humans and, despite the government’s claims to the contrary, permits some forms of human cloning. It also contains numerous other serious flaws, such as codifying paid surrogacy, permitting the purchase and sale of human sperm and eggs and the creation of chimeras.

Campaign Life Coalition said in a press release, “Future generations will hold accountable MPs who voted in favour of this legislation.”

Campaign Life Coalition director of research Hilary White said that the errors – definitional ambiguities and scientific inaccuracies – may have been deliberate. “It is hard to imagine,” she told The Interim, “these ambiguities and errors are accidents.”

However, the status of the bill is now unclear. On Nov. 12, Prime Minister Jean Chretien prorogued Parliament. Focus on the Family’s Family Facts News reported the next day, “When Parliament prorogues, all the bills left unpassed by the Commons and the Senate automatically die, although MPs do have the power to revive pending legislation when the next session begins. The catch is that it is unclear which bills a Martin government will wish to see brought back. bills that die in the Senate cannot be revived.”

An aide to an MP told The Interim that, “Any (government) bill that was before the Senate would be reinstated at first reading, even though it may have advanced to further stages. The Senate government leader could introduce a motion reinstating the bill at the stage it was being considered at the time of prorogation.”

Another source told The Interim that bills that have been passed in the House of Commons, and are in the Senate at time of prorogation, must get the unanimous consent of the House, but even that isn’t clear – is it the consent of the entire House leaders.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim he hopes that the government will reconsider the bill with amendments to correct the problems or write new legislation that will not denigrate the sanctity of human life by allowing destructive embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.

“First of all,” Hughes said, “we hope the Senate splits the bill as was originally requested in the House of Commons, in which case it will make it simpler for senators to see the flaws in the bill.” Hughes added, “Then it will have to go back to the House for amendments.”

He said, “It’s been a long battle so far and it’s not over yet.” CLC is encouraging supporters to contact senators and urge them to vote against the bill if it is not amended. A list of senators’ phone numbers will be published in the January 2004 Interim. Or you can call CLC at 1-800-730-5358.

Earlier this year, the government rejected many amendments that would have corrected the bill’s numerous flaws.

If C-13 passes the Senate as is (or is re-introduced unchanged), it will be difficult to get amendments passed at a later date. CLC’s White said in an analysis of C-13, “Once the bill is passed, the public perception of urgency to prohibit cloning will pass. The procedures used to create clones will quietly go on in research labs protected by the bill’s faulty definitions and unhindered by any further calls for prohibition.”

C-13 passed the House with the help of the NDP, which was given a concession on the number of women who will serve on a regulatory agency. The entire caucuses of the Canadian Alliance and Bloc Quebecois opposed C-13, joining most Tory MPs and 17 courageous Liberal MPs. CLC’s Hughes said, “Thank God for the stubborn refusal of the Canadian Alliance and Tories, who saw the evil in passing this legislation. But also thanks for the courage of the Liberal backbenchers in refusing to back down, despite the many pressures to accept this abomination.”

Hughes said, “I am proud of the MPs who fought so hard to point out the truth of this legislation that all cloning will not be banned and that human embryos will be fodder for experiments.”

Hughes also castigated some religious leaders who did not oppose the bill strenuously enough, considering the stakes. “The lack of strong opposition to this legislation from various faith communities borders on the scandalous.”

Lined up against pro-lifers in the debate over C-13 were charities and advocates for various diseases, convinced that treatment and cures for diabetes, cancer, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, and ALS, among others, are just around the corner. A joint statement, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, the Parkinson’s Society Canada and the ALS Society of Canada congratulated the government: “The bill contains provisions for embryonic stem cell research, which offers great hope for Canadians living with muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s and ALS – their dreams of a healthier, happier future now have a better opportunity of coming true!”

Mary Ellen Douglas, national co-ordinator for CLC, said that is not true. “The proof that adult stem cell research truly works, while stem cells taken from embryos does not,” is clear, but was not accepted by a majority of MPs, she said.

Health Canada, too, lauded the passing of C-13. In a press release, it said C-13 fills a “legislative void that currently exists in this country” and “reflects the government of Canada’s commitment to protect the health and safety of the people of Canada, who turn to assisted reproductive technology to help them build their families.” The federal department also claimed the bill protects children born from such technologies.

CLC’s White said that there is no “safe level” of reproductive technology use. “It’s a complete scam,” she said. “There is insufficient data to claim that regulating these technologies will lead to an acceptable level of health and safety. In fact, the data shows the opposite, that children produced through such technology are at greater risk for genetic anomalies.” White added that most genetic anomalies will not be seen until long into the life of the technologically produced person, and when genetic anomalies are detected in utero, the inevitable result will be abortion.

Health Canada’s release focused on process, applauding the creation of the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada, which will have authority to oversee the act and its regulations. But pro-lifers say that mere regulation of embryo research is not enough, and that the agency has too much authority and leaves too much to the whims of bureaucrats. White said that the agency will not be accountable or transparent, noting it answers only to the minister of health and that the minister does not have to consult Parliament.

She also charged the agency with merely regulating immoral practices, not ending them, nor even curtailing them. She used an analogy: “Traffic regulations do not prevent cars from getting where they want to get to. They help them get there faster. This agency will make immoral research easier and faster. We will have more efficient killing.”

Health Canada claims that, “This research has many potential benefits, such as advances in treating infertility, spinal-cord injuries or other serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.” This is unusual modesty on behalf of an advocate of destroying embryos for research purposes, as usually it is implied the benefits for cures and therapies are imminent.

Health Canada’s press release claimed, “Bill C-13 represents a balanced, reasonable and principled approach.” But pro-lifers wonder what could possibly balance out the destruction of hundreds of thousands of embryonic human beings?