Canadian Bioethicists Want Legislation to Protect Embryos Better

Point Out Improvements and Deficiencies in Assisted Reproduction Bill

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

TORONTO, DEC. 8, 2003 ( Canada is considering legislation that would ban human cloning but still allow for the destruction of human embryos for research, warn some bioethicists.

Dr. William Sullivan and John Heng have criticized this deficiency in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which the House of Commons passed Oct. 31 and sent to the Senate. The Senate ended its session Nov. 13 without making a decision on the bill; its next session begins Jan. 12.

Sullivan and Heng are hoping that the delay in the legislative process will provide an opportunity for thoughtful debate and necessary clarification of Bill C-13 in the new Senate session.

The bioethicists are not alone in their dissent. In response to the bill passage in the House of Commons, the Canadian bishops’ conference released a statement, saying, «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.»

Sullivan and Heng also praised some improvements in the legislation but still found fault with it.

In an article in the Nov. 23 edition of the Catholic Register of Canada, the bioethicists note: «Clause 5(1)(b) permits a human embryo to be created for ‘improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures.’ Clauses 10(2) and 10(3) would control, but not prohibit, the use for research of any human embryos that are ‘left over’ from assisted reproduction procedures.»

Sullivan, who is in the department of family medicine at the University of Toronto, is the director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute. Heng is in the department of philosophy and religious studies at King’s College, University of Western Ontario. Joseph Boyle of the University of Toronto’s philosophy department helped to write the article that appeared in the Register.

The most notable improvement in the bill, Sullivan and Heng say, was the broadening of the definition of «human clone,» to make it consistent with a comprehensive ban on human cloning. Another change they praised was the requirement that donors of human embryos, sperm and eggs must first receive counseling.

But the bioethicists raise concerns about the long-term effectiveness of the legislation’s ban on cloning and selling human embryos.

«The government may have left out any declaration of a principle of respect for embryonic human life in section 2 of Bill C-13 to allow for some forms of research on human embryos,» they write, «but this evasion could mean that even the important provisions in Bill C-13 against human cloning and the sale of human embryos will be ineffective in the long run.»

They point out that a ban on all forms of human cloning, including for research, seems groundless unless it is clear that the use of a human life, at any stage of development, solely to benefit others, is unacceptable.

«Indeed Bill C-13’s one exception to the ban against creating an embryo in vitro for non-reproductive purposes, i.e., to improve or provide instruction in assisted reproduction procedures, already implies that some human lives may be generated solely for use in research and teaching,» the bioethicists warn.

«It is not far-fetched to suggest that, in the near future, the ban against creating human clones for research could be successfully challenged,» they say.

If the dignity of human embryos is not recognized now, they may be in danger of being sold in the future, said Heng and Sullivan.

«Furthermore, unless it is declared that a human life, at any stage of development, should never be treated as if it were merely a thing, Bill C-13’s absolute prohibition against selling human embryos does not seem to have an enduring basis in legislation,» they add.

Heng and Sullivan note that if Bill C-13 passed as is, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency’s future regulations and their application might be able to give further protection to human life.

«The greatest hope at this stage in the legislative process is to ensure that the next stage of deliberation on Bill C-13 is not rushed,» they say. «The most important issue that must be addressed by the Senate is the moral and legal status of embryonic human life.»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation