Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 15, 2007
Fertility panel applauded for wide variety of voices
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The pre-Christmas appointment of a 10-member board to run the newly created Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC) has reaped controversy because four members have expressed "socially conservative" views.
The board will approve the new federal agency's goals, policies and $9 million budget; oversee its decisions on licensing for fertility procedures or research using in vitro embryos; evaluate its performance and provide advice to Health Minister Tony Clement.
"This impressive group of individuals represents a rich diversity of experience and perspectives," Clement said in a news release.
Elinor Wilson, the former CEO of the Canadian Public Health Association, will serve as the agency's president and Dr. John Hamm, a family doctor who served as premier of Nova Scotia from 1999 to 2006, will be the board chair.
Clement also appointed Suzanne Scorsone, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology and works at the Toronto Archdiocese as director of research and senior communications consultant; as well as three others who have expressed socially conservative views - Dr. Joseph Ayoub, an oncologist and McGill University professor; Francoise Baylis, a bioethics expert and Dalhousie University professor; David Novak, a rabbi and Jewish studies professor at the University of Toronto.
Scorsone said she is delighted with her appointment, but she will not speculate about what issues are likely to be raised or comment on any media controversy.
"We haven't met so I'm looking very much forward to meeting with the other members of the board and the president and the chair and seeing what the tasks before us are," she said. "Wait a year."
Scorsone said she is pleased with what she describes as a diverse and experienced board.
"It's very important that all Canadians be able to have a voice with respect to these important issues. They have such huge social, legal, ethical and medical implications for children, for children who will be born of reproductive technologies and for those who are seeking to have children using these reproductive technologies."
One of Canada's national newspapers, the Globe and Mail, published a series of articles and an editorial criticizing Scorsone's appointment and that of three others.
"The board's eight members include those who have in the past spoken out against abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and the way in which stem-cell scientists operate," wrote Carolyn Abraham in a Dec. 23 Globe and Mail story entitled Critics troubled by new fertility panel. The articles refer to Scorsone's 25 years with the Toronto Archdiocese and for having said she opposed the creation of extra embryos that might be discarded after fertility treatments.
"Really what they're arguing for is group think."
- Joseph Ben-Ami
The articles also mention her dissenting views as a member of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, which reported its recommendations in 1993.
The Globe has also reported that Novak opposed abortion unless the life of the mother is threatened, that Ayoub had spoken against euthanasia at a pro-life conference, and Baylis opposed the use of unfrozen embryos in research.
"Without prejudice to whatever qualities they might have, this suggests a stacking of the board with people of socially conservative views - views that might steer the panel away from embracing scientific advances that might help those who seek to give birth to healthy children," said a Dec. 29 Globe editorial.
Institute for Canadian Values executive director Joseph Ben-Ami is troubled by the Globe's targeting of the minority of socially conservative voices.
"They are trying to present themselves as balanced and fair but really what they're arguing for is group think. It is intellectually dishonest," he said.
Ben-Ami said he rejects the implied view that conservatives and people with religious faith are ideologues, unable to compromise, while those on the left are "automatically portrayed as being open minded, thoughtful and conciliatory. The whole thing is just bunk."
Scorsone defended the right of all citizens to take part in the political process.
"This is a democracy, and in a democracy people across the spectrum are citizens and have not only a right but also a responsibility to be part of the public discourse on matters of great human importance," she said. "And that means everyone."
The agency, called for under the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act, will administer and enforce the law. The law prohibits human cloning, the sale of human eggs or gametes and controls research using in vitro embryos.