Canadian Bishops Hit Assisted-Reproduction Bill as Deeply Flawed

Outgoing President Wants Stem Cell Research on Embryos Prohibited

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OTTAWA, NOV. 3, 2003 ( The outgoing leader of the Canadian episcopal conference repeated the bishops’ request that lawmakers reject federal legislation that would allow stem cell research on human embryos.

The Canadian House of Commons last week approved Bill C-13, also called «An Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction.» The measure went to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

Bishop Jacques Berthelet of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, who was finishing his presidential term with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and will be succeeded by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of St. John’s, Newfoundland, said, «As the Senate of Canada begins its debate on Bill C-13, we wish to reiterate that while there is much that is positive in the bill, it is also deeply flawed.»

The bishops’ conference had issued a statement in January requesting that the bill be amended to prohibit research on human embryos and to ensure that all forms and possibilities of cloning were covered.

There is a provision in the bill for prohibiting experimentation on embryonic human beings procreated solely for the purpose of research. But if procreated for any other reason — such as the «surplus» embryos that result from in vitro fertilization attempts — those embryos would be subject to experimentation, which would kill them.

Bishop Berthelet acknowledged in his letter»>″>letter last Wednesday that «we are particularly pleased that an amendment passed that makes the prohibition on cloning more effective.»

Bishop Berthelet’s letter summarized the vision of the human embryo as an individual who ought to be protected, and it provided some guidance to Catholic legislators with respect to their responsibility for the common good.

The letter also assessed the issues being debated in the Senate, including «the tragic failure of the bill to prohibit embryo research and the consequences should the present legislative vacuum continue.»

In defense of the humanity and dignity of the embryo, Bishop Berthelet wrote: «Both reason and faith inform the Catholic position that ‘the human being is to be respected and treated as a person’ from the beginning. This means that when it comes to treatment or research, the embryo must be treated as a subject and not as an object or a means to an end.

«No treatment must be undertaken that does not benefit or respect the integrity of the embryo. The problem with embryonic stem cell research is that while the research has the potential to benefit those living with disease, it actually harms the embryo who dies in the process. Ultimately, the embryo is exploited for the benefit of others.»

Quoting from the 1995 encyclical «Evangelium Vitae» and the recent Vatican doctrinal note on the participation of Catholics in political life, Bishop Berthelet appealed to Catholic legislators, saying that they have the right and duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life, which includes the common good, the integral good of the human person and specifically the rights of the human embryo.

Bishop Berthelet wrote that the bishops do agree with certain aspects of the bill.

«We have recognized,» he said, «that there is much in the proposals that could be supported, including the prohibitions of reproductive and therapeutic cloning, commercial surrogacy, germ-line alteration, the marketing of sperm, ova and embryos, and the acceptance that it would be offensive to include ‘embryo’ in the definition of ‘reproductive material.'»

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