On Dec. 21, federal Health Minister Tony Clement named the board for Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, an oversight agency established by the federal government to regulate reproductive and experimental technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research. This was done when it passed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act in 2004. Immediately, proponents of embryonic stem cell research and their media allies criticized the appointments to the eight-member board, complaining that there were no stem cell researchers or fertility patients or patients who theoretically might benefit from ESCR.
The Globe and Mail ran four stories and editorials critical of the appointments in the two weeks following the announcement. The paper editorialized on Dec. 29 that the board was “light on scientific expertise” and may pursue a political agenda, because it supposedly had a number of “social conservatives.” The paper claimed four of the eight board members were socons.
Edward Hughes, head of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, also complained about the makeup of the board, saying he was disappointed fertility specialists and their patients were not represented. Tim Caulfield, director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, concurred. “Other than a few names, these are not people who have had a lot to do with stem cell research or stem cell policy in Canada.”
Obviously, however, such people would have a conflict of interest serving on a board overseeing activities with which they are intimately involved, either as medical professionals or patients. The same could be said of scientists and potential patients of embryonic stem cell research.
In fact, the government appointed a diverse board, with representation from across the country, and from various cultural groups and professional backgrounds.
Elinor Wilson was appointed the full-time president of AHRC, while former Progressive Conservative Nova Scotia premier John Hamm was named the board’s chairman.
Wilson has held numerous management positions in both non-government and government organizations, including, most recently, the post of chief executive officer of the Canadian Public Health Association. Before entering politics, Hamm was a family physician for 30 years.
The board is composed of a wide variety of experts from academic, legal, medical and faith-based professions.
Among the board members are Suzanne Rozell Scorsone, a member of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies in the early 1990s and director of search and senior communications consultant for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto; David Novak, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto; Francoise Baylis, a bioethics specialist in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University; Albert Cudley, a medical doctor and director of the Genetics and Metabolism Program at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority; Theresa Kennedy, vice president of corporate communications for the B.C. biotech firm Res Verlogix; Roger Bilodeau, an Ottawa lawyer and former New Brunswick deputy minister of justice; Barbara Slater, a public health specialist with the public health unit in Kingston and former program manager at the Bay Centre for Birth Control in Toronto; and Dr. Joseph Ayoub, an oncologist at Hopital Notre-Dame and a professor at McGill University.
The federal agency, created by legislation enacted three years ago and established on paper in January 2006, will regulate the assisted reproduction industry through renewing, suspending and revoking licences for fertility clinics and ruling on research proposals, including those that request permission to use embryonic stem cells and create clonal human beings. The agency will also advise the federal minister on all matters related to assisted human reproduction, such as sperm donation and payment for surrogate mothers.
Campaign Life Coalition hopes that the agency will rein in the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Canada’s leading research outfit that last year funded embryonic stem cell research. CLC national organizer Mary Ellen Douglas said her pro-life organization wants the Assisted Human Reproduction Canada board to “stop the use and experimentation on human beings in the embryonic stage.” CLC national president Jim Hughes said, “The committee must first ask the question: is the use of human embryos even valid?”
Thus far, the only board member to express views on embryo research is Baylis. Writing in the Globe and Mail, she said she opposed the use of fresh human embryos for research, because doing so may encourage women to undergo multiple invasive procedures to procure the necessary eggs. However, Baylis does support using frozen embryos for research. Interestingly, one of the Globe articles criticized Baylis as among the socons for his advocacy of destroying only frozen embryos for stem cell research.
Nor did the media highlight Barbara Slater’s pro-abortion, pro-ESCR advocacy, although her official biography on the AHRC’s website includes information about her involvement with the Bay Centre for Birth Control in Toronto and a women’s health clinic that provided abortions in Hamilton.