By Tim Bloedow
The Interim

Three years ago the Liberal government introduced a bill, C-47, to criminalize and regulate various aspects of the reproductive and genetic technologies industry, but the 1997 election was called before the bill could be passed. Despite repeated promises that they would reintroduce legislation governing reproductive technologies, the Liberals have yet to do so, and they have avoided being specific in terms of indicating when a new bill would be ready.

In early November, Liberal House leader Don Boudria told the Commons to expect a bill early in the new year, but Health Canada spokesman Derek Kent told The Interim that no firm date has been set for completion of the bill.

Reform Party deputy health critic Reed Elley told The Interim that the current legal vacuum needs to be filled soon. He didn’t want to speculate as to why the Liberals are taking so long preparing a new bill. Pro-life forces fear that they are watering down the bill to reflect a growing tolerance of and demand for reproductive technologies.

Derek Kent said the delay is the result of changes inspired by committee hearings over the old Bill C-47. A number of concerns and suggestions were raised at the hearings which the government is incorporating into the new legislation, he said. “We hope it will be an improvement on Bill C-47,” he added.

Pro-lifers hope so too: many of them were pleased with some of the measures contained in Bill C-47, but recognized enormous holes in the legislation – the most notable being its allowing for experimentation on newly conceived children up to 14 days development, and its failure to ban eugenic manipulations (such as the abortion of children with disabilities). Pro-life activists, however, are not optimistic about the possibility that any new legislation will actually be an improvement.

Advancements in reproductive technologies have been receiving a lot of media coverage recently and often in relation to the apparent medical benefits of these developments. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes acknowledges that it is difficult to defend principles that seem foreign to the experience of many, such as the pro-life commitment to the dignity of unborn babies, when the other side are arguing in favour of relieving suffering and conquering sicknesses.

Mr. Hughes told The Interim that pro-life Canadians need to redouble their efforts to meet with and educate their Members of Parliament. They even need to meet with supportive MPs, he said. Many pro-lifers assume that like-minded MPs are knowledgeable about the issues because they are pro-life, but this is not always the case.

“Sometimes these MPs have to try defending the pro-life side of an issue without having the necessary information,” Mr. Hughes explained. “As a result, they are embarrassed and their credibility in defence of life is weakened. We must continue to educate supportive MPs once we have helped to get them elected.”

The recent arrival of British fertility researcher Roger Gosden is an excellent illustration of the need for legislation and regulations, said Jim Hughes. He came to Canada to work at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital and to benefit from government funding for his work. He is best known for developing an ovarian graft technique to “reverse” menopause, and has reportedly attempted to use the ovaries of aborted babies in some of his research.

He was tired of battling regulatory and legal restrictions on his work in Britain, but groups like Campaign Life Coalition want to send him packing from Canada as well. Jim Hughes says that if Bill C-47 had passed, Mr. Gosden would not have found Canada any more attractive a location than the United Kingdom.