By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) has asked the federal government to address the “staggering consequences” of the 2010 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down portions of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA).
“Areas of research that raise deep and significant ethical issues, including human embryonic research and the creation of animal-human hybrids, were to be regulated activities,” wrote EFC Vice President and Legal Counsel Don Hutchinson in a July 16 letter to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
“The Court has created confusion and a virtual open season now exists in regard to certain aspects of human-animal genome experimentation and embryo importing, exporting, research, and destruction as a result of the decision deeming sections 10 and 11 of the Act, along with much of section 40, unconstitutional,” he said.
The letter urges Parliament to “legislate absolute prohibitions,” in some areas to strengthen the AHRA and consult with the provinces and territories to develop a “consistent national standard” for regulating reproductive technology.
“Canada needs a national standard, one that is as robust as the Act, particularly as we face rapid advancements in reproductive technologies and the changing social understandings of family, both in Canada and globally,” Hutchinson wrote.
The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) “shares the concerns” of the EFC, said COLF’s director Michele Boulva.
“The current situation of human procreation is treated as a purely technological issue rather than an ethical one involving the common good, and the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable,” Boulva said. “We really need to ask ourselves about the legitimacy of techniques that fail to respect the dignity of human persons.”
She said any situation which allows technology to dominate human life in its origin and destiny but treats the embryonic human being as an object ought to be intolerable in a civilized society.
“Cultivating respect involves personalizing and humanizing; these techniques—whatever motivates them—involves depersonalizing and dehumanizing!" Boulva said.
“We join the EFC's call to the Federal Ministers of Justice and Health in the hope that the Government will soon legislate again on this issue, in order to protect the dignity of all human life.”
Hutchinson pointed out the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada, in conjunction with Health Canada was to develop and implement regulations concerning these and other activities listed in the AHRA’s “Controlled Activities” section.
Hutchinson outlined the extensive consultation that went into the AHRA before it became law in 2004. This included a Royal Commission inquiry in consultation with the provinces and Parliamentary committee hearings. The AHRA had been “recognized widely as being one of the most comprehensive and useful pieces of legislation dealing with reproductive and genetic technologies in the world,” he said.
The Supreme Court's decision did not “adequately recognize that process,” Hutchinson added. “The Government now has the responsibility to, while recognizing the wisdom and cautions of the Court, exercise proper parliamentary authority in an area that calls for the collective wisdom of Parliament.”
The Court's decision has “impacted the care and treatment of human genetic materials and the raison d’être for the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada."
While the EFC was disappointed with aspects of the 4-4-1 split decision, it “also outlined an appropriate and continuing role of the federal government in this area of social policy.”
“The Government of Canada has before it the opportunity to show strong leadership in reaffirming the singular importance of a national standard for assisted human reproduction research and biotechnology,” Hutchinson wrote.
The EFC legal counsel argued that maintaining the AHRA’s integrity “would have ensured a strong and consistent national standard.”
“Canadians are still waiting to see how each province and territory will respond to the Court’s decision," Hutchinson said. "Will their province choose to regulate the ethically challenging practices which were struck out of the Act?"
He said while the province of Quebec has determined to regulate these areas, some provinces have shown no interest in addressing the issue.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was among the many interveners in the reference to the Supreme Court's decision on the AHRA. The reference to the court arose when the province of Quebec argued assisted human reproduction was a health issue under provincial jurisdiction.