Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 10, 2002
Curb Brave New World scenario
The federal government's Assisted Human Reproduction Bill is being pushed along speedily to final approval by the end of the month.
To no small extent, this is a good thing. Canada has never had legislation governing matters such as cloning, embryo experimentation, sex selection and the selling of eggs and sperm.
Long ago, the Mulroney government set up a royal commission, which, in 1993, recommended Canada should have such legislation. The government has been dragging its heels on the matter ever since.
So it is good to see it finally get serious about the matter and to outlaw a number of Brave New World-type practices which ought to be outlawed.
However there are serious flaws that ought to make MPs loathe to pass the legislation in its current state.
Chief among these is the bill's failure to protect human life from the moment of fertilization. Embryos created by in vitro fertilization but never transplanted into a mother's womb would be fair game for scientists doing stem cell research.
Health Minister Anne McLellan and the federal government have never explained why such experimentation cannot take place using adult stem cells and why a very young human being must be killed and stripped for parts for such research. McLellan has only said her legislation performs a balancing act between two "extremes."
On one extreme are those who want to establish embryo farms, unrestricted cloning and surrogacy, and on the other "extreme" are those who believe in the inviolable dignity of human life.
Why the latter view counts as extreme and not an entirely reasonable basis for government policy is never dealt with. Explaining such a thing would get in the way of opening the door for those who hope to make a bundle from the results of embryo research.
Another serious flaw is the lack of accountability of the proposed Assisted Human Reproduction Agency, which will make regulations in this area to be approved by the health minister.
Such regulations regarding the treatment of nascent human beings ought to be subject to approval by Parliament.
The agency's licencing hearings should be held in public, the agency ought to report annually to Parliament and it ought to be subject to audit by the auditor-general. These are basic requirements for protecting the common good in an area of high ethical sensitivity.
There is a further issue in that much of the research in question aims to eliminate genetic defects. This is a worthy goal.
But McLellan's bill ought to make it clear that such research does not imply that those who suffer from defects are leading an inferior form of human existence. Such research should not be aimed at creating - or perceived to be aimed at creating - a super-race in which the healthy are good and the less healthy are comparably less dignified.
One should not damn this bill as totally lacking an ethical viewpoint. Rather, one should welcome its arrival and applaud the good that it tries to do.
But one cannot turn a blind eye to the serious flaws it contains. Left unchecked, these flaws will indeed allow Canada to drift towards the Brave New World where some people are treated as less human than others and where the less-human, even in the most gruesome ways, are made to serve the desires of a powerful healthy elite.
This bill should not be passed without amendments.
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