Ottawa takes on reproductive technology
The new federal law on reproductive technology tabled last week was a long time coming. A royal commission studied the subject exhaustively from 1989 to 1993. Then, in 1995, Ottawa tried to impose a voluntary moratorium on contentious practices, such as buying and selling human sperm and eggs; it was widely ignored. The next year, then-Health Minister David Dingwall introduced legislation that was never passed, while his successor, Allan Rock, managed to get as far as draft legislation last May.
Now Anne McLellan, the latest health minister, is taking on the challenge. Her reputation for taming tough files (as justice minister she pushed through bills on young offenders and gun control) is on the line. Some measures in her new act sound dramatic, but in fact aren't particularly contentious. Banning human cloning, for example, is widely supported. The creation of a federal agency to regulate fertility clinics and research is generally seen as long overdue. But McLellan's proposal to stifle the flourishing commercial side of "assisted human reproduction" is generating controversy.
Her legislation would make it illegal to pay surrogate mothers and sperm and egg donors, and forbid the buying and selling of human embryos. Lawyers and doctors involved in the often desperate business of would-be parents paying for sperm, eggs, embryos or surrogates have long warned that trying to stop these transactions will merely drive them underground. As well, McLellan's decision to allow stem-cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments (while banning the creation of embryos for research purposes) is meeting stiff resistance. The Canadian Alliance, attuned to the concerns of the anti-abortion movement, is calling for a three-year moratorium on embryonic stem-cell research to give science time to develop techniques for using adult stem cells. But McLellan wasn't giving an inch last week - determined, it seems, to succeed where Dingwall and Rock failed.
Maclean's May 20, 2002