Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 1, 2004
Recognize the ethics
Catholic Senator Douglas Roche challenges reproduction bill's morality, efficiency
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
A Senate committee opened its hearings into C-6, the proposed Assisted Human Reproduction Act, with a Catholic member challenging the federal health minister's claim that the bill "reconciles ethical issues."
Senator Douglas Roche pounded the table as he accused the government Feb. 18 of not trying to understand the views of Canadians who believe "embryonic stem cell research is wrong."
Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew, the first witness to appear before the Senate committee of social affairs, science and technology hearings, had said the proposed legislation, previously known as C-13, "reflects the values of Canadians quite sincerely," and urged the committee to pass the bill without further delay.
He also ruled out splitting the bill into two parts - one that would ban less controversial measures including human cloning, sex selection clinics and the sale of human eggs - and another that would allow research on embryonic stem cells. Such research always results in the killing of the embryo and is opposed by the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at the moment of conception.
Roche, founding editor of the Western Catholic Reporter, said the Senate is faced with passing the bill as it is, or having no legislation at all to regulate new reproductive technologies such as cloning. "I resent that," he said. "And I speak for many people."
In a Feb. 19 interview, Roche said Pettigrew was "ignoring the deep flaws in the bill from an ethical perspective that have been pointed out."
There are "distinguished voices in the country, of which the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) is one, who are saying the bill is deeply flawed," said the independent senator from Alberta.
"I can only assume the government is driving the agenda and wants to pass the legislation without amendment before the election," expected this spring, Roche said.
Although it is opposed to embryonic stem cell research, the CCCB neither endorses nor opposes the proposed legislation.
It said in a statement last October that the bill is "deeply flawed," but that it is not telling Catholic senators how to vote "because it is their responsibility to discern the best way to protect human life and dignity after reflecting on all the resources available to them."
Also appearing before the committee was Dr. Eugene Bereza, chair of the Canadian Medical Association's ethics committee. He said the CMA does not oppose the prohibition of measures in the bill but does not believe criminalization of medical measures is appropriate.
"The CMA questions whether criminal prohibitions are appropriate for dealing with activities about which there is considerable ethical disagreement among Canadians," said Bereza.
"Legislators in Canada have been justifiably reluctant to use criminal law to deal with medical and scientific issues such as abortion, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and the conduct of medical research."
Penalties for those who ignore the bans include jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to $500,000. Bereza said they would "create a climate of fear and excessive caution for physicians and scientists working in this area."
The Senate committee is continuing its hearings.