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Canadian MPs finally vote on ART legislation

30 October 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 232

Having stumbled in its passage through parliament earlier this month, Canada's long awaited legislation on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and related matters has finally been passed by the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-13, entitled 'an Act respecting assisted human reproduction', was first introduced to the Canadian parliament in May 2002, but has been more than 10 years in the making. Now, federal MPs have voted 149-109 in favour of the comprehensive ART bill, a larger majority than was perhaps expected.

The Canadian legislation, which now has to pass through the Senate to become law, bans human cloning (for both reproductive and therapeutic purposes), the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos, 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 also regulates 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 must 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. In addition, the bill allows embryonic stem cell (EScell) research to take place on surplus IVF embryos, but prohibits the use of embryos created specifically for research purposes. The bill also establishes a regulatory body, the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada (AHRAC), which will license, monitor and enforce the new law, if passed by the Senate, in a similar way to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The AHRAC will also collect and store data on ARTs.

Patricia Baird, the chair of a 1993 royal commission report on ARTs that recommended 'urgent action' to the government of the day, welcomed the news. She said 'I've been waiting for the legislation imminently for the last 10 years', adding 'it's taken far too long'. A previous bill died in the House of Commons six years ago. However, even though the House of Commons has passed the latest bill, it still has to move on to the Senate, where the whole debating, committee and voting process will begin again. In addition, it seems likely that the Canadian Parliament will adjourn, in early-mid November, for the winter, which could further delay the whole process. One potential benefit of this is that incoming Prime Minister, Paul Martin, who will begin the next session, has voiced support for the legislation. However, according to the Toronto Star newspaper, a spokesperson for Paul Martin refused to speculate on whether he would simply restart the process with an unchanged bill.

Those in opposition to the passage of the bill have vowed to continue their fight against it. Paul Szabo, one of 16 Liberal MPs who broke ranks from the party line in the Commons vote, and leader of those opposed to the bill who have been delaying its progress so far, believes the fight is not yet over: 'We're just starting', he said. He believes that poor drafting of the bill means that it does not properly ban human cloning or the creation of animal-human hybrids and says he will continue to make his voice heard in the Senate, adding 'This bill is so fatally flawed, there's no question about it'. Pro-life groups also oppose the measure, because it would allow limited ES cell research. They intend to seek amendments in the Senate that could prevent the proposal from getting final approval. According to one senator, about 20 members of the Senate are known to have some concerns about the legislation. But Health Minister Anne McLellan, sponsor of the bill, remains resolute. 'As far as I'm concerned, it will become law', she said, adding that she has spoken to Senator Michael Kirby, who will head a Senate committee that will examine the bill: 'I have every confidence that Senator Kirby will take this legislation and do a thorough job of reviewing it and move it forward', she said.

Canada House backs embryonic stem cell research
Reuters |  29 October 2003
MPs ban human cloning
The Toronto Star |  29 October 2003
MPs pass controversial cloning bill
The Ottawa Citizen |  29 October 2003
MPs vote to allow use of embryos in research
The Globe and Mail |  29 October 2003
3 October 2005 - by Dr Mavis Jones 
The current public consultation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act, according to the government's official statement, is intended 'to ensure that the law remains effective and fit for purpose in the early 21st century'. The HFE Act has managed to maintain political authority over its 15 year tenure...
9 May 2005 - by BioNews 
The Australian federal government, which was planning to cut back on funding for IVF in its budget next month, has backed down. It was considering placing a cap on the number of Medicare-funded IVF treatments to a maximum of three for women over 42 and three per year for women...
8 March 2004 - by BioNews 
A Canadian Senate committee has unanimously passed legislation on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and related matters. Approval by the Senate virtually guarantees that the Assisted Human Reproduction Act - which has been years in the making - will receive Royal Assent and become law. Last October, bill C-13, entitled 'an Act...
12 January 2004 - by BioNews 
The Canadian federal government is to reintroduce legislation on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and related matters. Last October, bill C-13, entitled 'an Act respecting assisted human reproduction', was passed by the Canadian House of Commons by 149-109 votes, after almost ten years of debate and despite vigorous pro-life...
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