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.