Federal Health Minister Allan Rock has reiterated the need for careful federal regulation in the area of new reproductive and genetic technologies.

In a December letter to The Interim, Mr. Rock said the voluntary moratorium on certain new reproductive technology applications, such as sex selection for non-medical purposes, cloning of embryos, and embryonic research, remains in effect.

The moratorium was enacted by Health Canada in July 1995 in response to the development of a number of unregulated practices in the area of reproductive health and technology. Among them were sperm sales and surrogate motherhood, or “rent-a-womb.”

Bill C-47,  the most recent federal proposals in the new reproductive-technology area, died on the order paper before the calling of last summer’s federal election.

The bill sought to establish a legislative framework around the voluntary moratorium proposed by Health Canada.

Catholic and pro-life groups supported certain components of Bill C-47, but voiced some objections, particularly its failure to prohibit experimentation on fertilized embryos from one to 13 days after conception.

“The development and application of new reproductive and genetic technologies (NRGTs) have raised many profound social, ethical, legal and health issues,” Mr. Rock told The Interim.

“Consultations conducted by both the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies and Health Canada reveal a consensus among Canadians regarding the need to legislate in the area of NRGTs to ensure the health and safety of those most affected by these practices, and to ensure that NRGTs which violate Canadian values are not performed.”

Mr. Rock said Canadians have long indicated a desire for the federal government to deal with new reproductive-technology issues in a careful  and comprehensive manner.

He added, however, that given the complexity of these issues, the federal health ministry requires more time for study and evaluation before making any new proposals.

A spokesman for Mr. Rock said there is a remote possibility that new reproductive-technology legislation could be tabled sometime in 1998.

Mr. Rock’s comments come as Canadians and pro-lifers in general react to reports that renegade American physicist, Dr. Richard Seed, plans to begin cloning of human beings. Many scientists and ethicists have expressed shock at Seed’s announcement for both practical and moral considerations.