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Canada's ART bill in trouble again

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

16 October 2003

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[BioNews, London] Canada's long awaited legislation on human reproduction and related matters hit further obstacles last week. The comprehensive bill (C-13) on assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) was first introduced to the Canadian parliament in May 2002. Entitled an 'Act respecting assisted human reproduction', its purpose, according to its sponsors, is to protect the health and safety of Canadians using ARTs, whilst prohibiting 'unacceptable' activities and regulating research. If passed, bill C-13 would also establish a regulatory body, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada (AHRAC), which would license, monitor and enforce the new law in a similar way to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The Canadian legislation would ban human cloning (for both reproductive and therapeutic purposes), sex selection of embryos for non-medical reasons, payments to women acting as surrogates, payment for donated gametes and the buying or selling of human embryos. It would also regulate the collection, alteration, manipulation or treatment of any human reproductive material for the purpose of creating an embryo, storage of reproductive material and information about donors. Under the Act, donors will have to give fully informed written consent before their gametes or embryos are used, and children born following donation will be entitled to receive medical information about the donors. Donors will be identifiable only if they consent to be so. Embryo stem cell research would be allowed on surplus IVF embryos, but not on embryos created specifically for research purposes.

The bill is currently going through its third reading in the Canadian House of Commons. Since the House resumed business in September, the bill has had just four hours of debate. This is mainly because a number of the bill?s opponents seem intent on disrupting its progress, resorting to filibustering tactics to ensure the debate doesn't move on. Because of this, voting on the third reading is not likely to take place before the week of 20 October. If the bill does not come to a vote this session, it is likely to die, wasting almost 15 years of debate, consultation and deliberation. Even if the bill does pass through the vote, it still has to move on to the Senate, where the whole debating and voting process has to begin again. Because of this, it is very unlikely that bill C-13 could be passed by Christmas.

Most of the opposition to the bill is focused on its proposal to allow regulated embryo stem cell research: many MPs object to this on religious grounds. MPs from the right-wing Canadian Alliance and from the Liberal government's own backbenches have warned that efforts to block the bill will continue. Speaking after the delay to the third reading last week, Liberal MP Paul Szabo, leader of the opposition MPs, said 'I think they were surprised at how many speakers I had'. But support for the Bill has come from an unlikely source: the democratic socialist New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP had initially opposed the legislation on ground of sexual equality, as it does not explicitly guarantee that women will make up at least half of the members of the AHRAC. But the party has changed its position after a 'personal commitment' to do everything possible to ensure gender equality was made by health minister Anne McLellan. This may give the government enough votes to get the bill through the House of Commons. A spokesman for the government said that the bill 'remains a priority', adding 'we're committed to passing it and we'll pass it in the best way possible'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 16 October 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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