The struggle between the pro-life and the pro-abortion sides in the battle over Bill C-13 has come to resemble a fencing match between two desperate opponents. Each side scrutinizes the moves and countermoves of the other, and each side tries to give away as little ground as possible.
The bill is supposed to be about regulating assisted human reproduction. It seems ironic that in the end, it provides very little in the way of regulation of in-vitro fertilization activities or businesses, leaving most of that work, the ostensible raison d’etre for the bill, up to as-yet-unwritten “regulations.” No one knows when these regulations are going to be written, or by whom. There is a long list of topics to be covered by the regulations, but little clue as to what they will actually say.
Part of the trouble is that the bill doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. There are provisions to attempt, or appear to attempt, to prohibit human cloning, the creation of human/animal creatures and the buying or selling of human genetic material. The attempts made at restricting what is referred to as “commercial surrogacy” – the rent-a-womb business flourishing in the U.S. – were overturned in a befuddled flurry of feminist double-think. Lip service is given to the commodification of human persons, but there is no restriction at all on the destruction of human embryos for research. A sanction is given for the creation of human embryos for destructive research. All this is supposed to be what the government MPs like to call “balance,” as we careen to the bottom of the slippery slope.
Confused and unschooled idealism, and a strange, rigidly ideological notion of women’s rights, has created an atmosphere of chaos in the House. What the confusion has revealed is that there is a desperation to continue to plaster over the vast gulf between what we are doing as a nation in abortion facilities and in-vitro labs and what we know is moral and just. A silent, unacknowledged and desperate battle is being fought across a gulf that separates, not the government from Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, but the good, the true and the right, from the expedient, the profitable and the utilitarian.
Most of the debate in the House has been about two things: embryonic stem cell research and cloning. The debates have brought to mind the biblical story wherein everyone was trying to build a great tower, but half way through, suddenly realized no one knew what anyone else was talking about.
Dr. Dianne Irving and others have pointed out that the bill, in its complexity, pays little attention to the actual facts of the science involved, and rather tends to favour journalists’ interpretation of scientific terms more than the embryologists’.
Since the bill was reintroduced in the House after the health committee process, pro-life Canadians have engaged in a vaudevillian fencing match of memos, motions, denials, accusations, amendments, assessments, thrusts, parry and riposte.
The biggest battle has been over the definition of cloning. Before the committee process gave us an amended definition, it was discovered that the bill, despite a clearly stated intention of prohibiting cloning, would allow any technique of human cloning because of faulty wording in Clause 3. The health committee heard of this problem and started looking seriously at the definitions. When the bill came back to the House for debate, it was with a reworded definition, along with other amendments.
Between Jan. 27 and Feb. 11, a large number of motions to amend were brought forward in the course of the House debates. Most of these were by the Liberal MP for Mississauga South, Paul Szabo, who had written on stem cell research and ethics. Many of these motions were excellent and would have done much to mitigate the evil proposed by the bill. Two in particular caught the attention of pro-life groups” 13 and 17 would, respectively, tighten the prohibition on human cloning and prohibit destructive research on human embryos. Campaign Life Coalition sent letters to supporters across the country, asking for support for these motions in letters and phone calls to MPs.
In early March, the cloning definition was examined again and it was found that the wording would still allow a number of different methods of creating a cloned human being. On March 11, CLC sent a memo to the MPs warning of this and giving details of the three techniques of cloning that were still allowed. CLC asked that Paul Szabo’s motion be passed.
The Interim has obtained a copy of a March 13 memo from Health Minister Anne McLellan to Liberal caucus members, refuting the claims made by Szabo and stating, without any scientific rationale, that the bill does ban cloning and to stop complaining that it did not. Moreover, this document claimed that the bill had always intended to allow the creation of embryos for destructive research – an act which most MPs, even those who are pro-abortion, find morally offensive.
In February, in New Jersey, a bill claiming to prohibit human cloning had just been thrown out of the state legislature. Though it claimed to prohibit human cloning, clever manipulation of scientific definitions combined with the wording of certain prohibitions made the bill allow not just the creation of human clones, but their implantation and gestation up to the ninth month. It would further have required that the child be killed by abortion before birth. This was the first of the so-called, “clone and kill bills” that have been popping up all over the United States.
Dr. Diane Irving sent a warning to pro-lifers in Canada, telling us to watch for last-minute amendments that would render C-13 a clone-and-kill imitator. When no new motions were forthcoming, the matter was dropped until March 17, when the government game was given away.
On March 17, the health minister issued another document giving, for the first time, a detailed rationale for the bill in the form of a complete assessment of the motions that still awaited a vote.
One section of the assessment said, “Replacing the term ‘human being’ with ‘human reproduction’ would add a legally undefined term to a statutory prohibition. The term ‘human being’ is defined in case law, thus allowing for a precise interpretation.”
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, an infant is defined as coming into existence “when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother” – a definition with which Canadian pro-lifers are all too familiar.
The prohibitions in the legislation include, in many cases, the caveat that an activity be prohibited “for the purpose of creating a human being.” If Canadian law says that a human being exists only after birth, then as long as what is being created is not going to be allowed to be born, there is no prohibition. The worst fears have been confirmed: C-13 is a clone-and-kill bill.
Clause 5(1)(c), with the proviso that the purpose is not to “create a human being,” by its description of the technique and in conjunction with the new wording of the definition of “human clone” in clause 3, allows pro-nuclei transfer cloning. The procedure takes genetic material from two or more very early-stage embryos and combines them with an enucleated female gamete or “ovum.” This technique is the cutting-edge research being done with a variety of animal subjects with some success. The definition of “human clone” would allow this because it specifies that the genetic material used in cloning come from a “single” embryo, fetus or human being. As long as the cloned embryo is not intended to be allowed to live past birth, it can be implanted and allowed to gestate up to the ninth month.
Almost the moment this was discovered, a vote was scheduled for the report-stage motions. By the end of the week, all the pro-life motions but one (Motion 13) had been defeated. A motion had passed that allowed surrogate mothers to be compensated for lost wages should their pregnancy keep them from work.
C-13 is still awaiting a vote. Concurrence was given on March 16 in a chaotic night session of the House at the end of which no one was quite sure what we had. A motion was put forward to send the bill back to the health committee to consider whether to allow children born through donor eggs or sperm to know the identity of their biological parents. The vote for that motion was scheduled for April 29 (after The Interim went to press). If it does not pass, the bill as it is will go to a vote and will likely pass. After that, the whole thing starts all over again in the Senate.