By Paul Tuns
The InterimOn March 11, the Senate approved Bill C-6, An Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction and Related Research (formerly C-13). The media dutifully did the government’s bidding by erroneously reporting that the government’s reproductive and experimental technologies bill bans human cloning and regulates embryonic stem cell research.
Such claims have proven to be untrue. As an analysis by Campaign Life Coalition, released last year, demonstrates, shoddy definitions of what a human being is, and other ambiguities in the language of the bill, will permit human cloning. (If a human being is not properly defined, legislation cannot ban the cloning of one.) As then CLC researcher Hilary White told The Interim, these are loopholes you can drive a clone through.
Aside from arguments about semantics (though the semantics are important), the bill is fundamentally flawed. It permits research on human embryos “leftover” from fertility clinics.
Such stunning callousness toward the tiniest of the human species should raise alarms, but the Senate gave nary a consideration to the life and death issues surrounding C-6. While scientists told a Senate committee examining the bill that embryonic stem cell research may yield spectacular cures and therapies in the future, there was no: 1) discussion of the fact that the embryonic human being has to be destroyed to harvest his or her cells, 2) countervailing testimony to illustrate that there is little scientific basis for researchers’ wild claims about cures that are supposedly just around the corner, and 3) exploration into ethical sources of adult stem cells have yielded greater clinical successes and thus, should be pursued. As CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas told The Interim, was it any wonder that they voted as they did, considering they only had one side of the story? “What do they call the Senate?” she asked rhetorically. “The chamber of sober second thought.”
C-6 also permits the creation of human embryos for the express purpose of research on IVF; sanctions destructive in-vitro fertilization and its allowance for homosexual couples; sanctions surrogate motherhood (although it limits payments in such cases); and permits the creation of chimeras (human-animal hybrids). Despite the serious implications of these issues, the Senate did not explore the moral questions surrounding IVF, surrogacy, destructive embryonic stem cell research and cloning.
Douglas said the senators were not open to hearing opposing points of view. “They gave it a cursory glance,” she complained. “They never even considered the moral questions, the human side of the issue.”
Douglas noted that “countless numbers of babies will be slaughtered” to satisfy the massive demand for embryonic stem cell research. “The senators gave no consideration to this.”
Noting the untold cost in human lives Douglas stated “Heaven help us.”
Pro-lifers are worried that with embryo research out of the bag, cloning won’t be far behind. As The Interim reported in February, Dalhousie University’s Dr. Francoise Baylis lamented the lack of “surplus” embryos for research purposes. Some scientists support the cloning of embryos in order to harvest stem cells. With the legislation’s inadequate definition of what a human being is, embryo cloning may not be far away.
Pro-life groups in Canada were lined up against the legislation. Both CLC, the political arm of the pro-life movement, and Life Canada, the educational arm, were both denied an opportunity to present before the Senate committee considering the bill. Senators said there was no need to hear from such organizations because the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops made a presentation. The CCCB did not urge the Senate to defeat the legislation.
Douglas said that the Senate seemed to be in a hurry to pass C-6. There are indications the Prime Minister’s Office pressed the Senate to get C-6 and several other issues dealt with before the end of March, so Prime Minister Paul Martin could call an spring election. Douglas castigated the Senate for rushing through the legislation for political reasons.
One of the selling points of C-6, when it was before Parliament, was that it created a regulatory body to oversee embryonic stem cell research. CLC criticized the body, saying that it had no teeth and that it was not accountable to Parliament, despite the fact it would oversee the disbursement of taxpayers’ money. In a press release, Karen Murawsky, public affairs director of Campaign Life Coalition in Ottawa, said, “We have no confidence in regulations to be set in the future which will offer no protection to human life.” Less than two days after the Senate passed the legislation, the CBC reported that although C-6 is expected to take effect by mid-April, after the governor-general signs it, the government’s regulatory agency is not in place and is not expected to be up and running for “a few years.”
Francine Manseau, a senior policy analyst with Health Canada, said the agency that will monitor the so-called ban on human cloning and paid surrogacy won’t be created until at least 2006. She said that complaints about alleged violations will have to be taken to the police, “who will then be taking the responsibility to enforce the legislation.”
The agency will be responsible for oversight of all aspects of the legislation, including licensing fertility clinics to inspecting research labs.
Douglas told The Interim she is not surprised. She said that researchers admit that they have beend doing this research for years and that they now want to be financed by us, the taxpayers. “They’ve been working without oversight for years, so why is now any different?”