Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning abandoned his pro-life position with his endorsement of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).

Manning, science and technology critic for the Canadian Alliance was joined by Alliance health critic Diane Ablonczy in his annoucnement which also called for a ban on the creation of embryos for the purpose of research.

Pro-lifers were disturbed that the critics urged the government to increase its funding of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, including funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research. Manning said Canada could lag behind other countries when it comes to finding cures for various diseases and possibly suffer an exodus of scientists to countries that fund ESCR if it did not spend more of taxpayers’ money on the unethical and medically dubious research.

Manning and Ablonczy were correct to indict Canada for dragging its feet on these issues, but pro-lifers have condemned their support for ESCR. Manning told Canadian Press on August 31 that ESCR gets “into moral choices between the lesser of two evils – either the destruction of the embryo or its use in research that may potentially heal someone.” Manning called using human embryos for experimentation purposes “the lesser of two evils.”

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes told The Interim, “There is no such thing as the lesser of two evils when you are killing human beings. All you have is evil.”

Hughes noted that because the embryo is destroyed when its stem cells are harvested, the distinction Manning makes that “either” the embryo is destroyed or it is used for research is a false one. “The embryo is destroyed either way,” Hughes noted.

CLC applauded Manning and Ablonczy’s call for increased funding of adult stem cell research and urged all parties to support such research, which is closer to clinical trials and is thus truly more promising than ESCR.

Manning and Ablonczy also urged Prime Minister Jean Chretien to introduce legislation banning reproductive human cloning, instead of waiting for a parliamentary committee to act sometime next year. Both Manning and Ablonczy sit on the standing committee for health, which is getting ready for hearings on reproductive technologies draft legislation introduced by Health Minister Allan Rock last spring.

Days after the surprise Manning-Ablonczy statement, Alliance leader Stockwell Day was asked by reporters in a press conference about their announcement and whether he supported them or the position of CLC. He said they articulated interim party policy in demanding an immediate ban on human cloning and support for ethical forms of adult stem cell research, but added that Manning was expressing a personal opinion about ESCR. Day said he was personally opposed to ESCR but noted the party had yet to develop policy on this issue. He agreed that the federal government should act sooner rather than later on this issue.

CLC said action is needed now, because moral debate and legislation are needed before scientists actually clone a human or before ESCR progresses so far as to become politically difficult to roll back. It noted that cloning and ESCR, like abortion, are not currently regulated by any law so that, in effect, both are permitted.

A source closely monitoring the situation on Parliament Hill told The Interim many Alliance MPs were upset with Manning and Ablonczy over their announcement, which apparently was not discussed with the caucus beforehand.

“They spoke out of turn,” he said. “They showed disrespect for their colleagues, many of whom are disgusted by the way they acted on their own.”

He said Manning’s comments reflect “Manning the pragmatist” as opposed to “Manning the principled conservative,” a reflection of the former leader’s proclivity to betray his past pro-life sentiments. Others hypothesized that the announcement was designed to plant a wedge within caucus before next spring’s Alliance leadership race.

The source in Ottawa also said considering that at least half of the Alliance caucus is pro-life, caucus meetings that are set to begin when Parliament resumes this month should result in a “fairly coherent policy” on the status of the embryo and reproductive technologies in general.

He was “confident Day will provide leadership on these difficult questions,” but said pro-life Alliance supporters needed to “support and encourage” Day on this issue.

The Liberal government, on the other hand, remains committed to the ill-defined timeline it came up with earlier this year, with the health committee expected to make its initial report in January and Parliament to consider wide-ranging reproductive technologies legislation during the middle of 2002 at the earliest