National Post

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Wednesday, April 28, 1999

Rock promises law banning human cloning

Tom Arnold
National Post

Just one day after a team of Montreal scientists revealed they had cloned the first triplet goats, the federal government announced it will soon introduce legislation to ban human cloning in Canada.

During Question Period yesterday, Christiane Gagnon, a Bloc Quebecois MP, pressed Allan Rock, Canada's Health Minister, for quick action. Mr. Rock said he would act later this year but did not provide further details.

"We began a voluntary moratorium on the practice [a few years ago] that is still in effect," he told the House of Commons. "Evidently, more is necessary, and I have already begun consultations with experts, including the head of the Royal Commission on the subject."

Dr. Patricia Baird, chairwoman of the 1993 Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies, welcomed the announcement. She has repeatedly called for rules to deal with the dangers of human cloning, as well as federal regulations to govern embryo harvesting, bartering eggs for cash, and commercial surrogacy.

"It's been over five years since we reported to government, so I am very glad that something is now going to take place. I hope we actually do it before the end of this year."

Less than one month after taking office in 1993, the Liberal government received her report. The commission spent the previous four years -- and $30-million in taxpayer funds -- holding public hearings and conducting research.

Its 293 recommendations included a ban on certain reproductive technologies and the creation of a regulatory body to oversee the baby-making trade.

Yesterday, Dr. Baird said tough legislation is critical because human cloning "could be used in a way that is quite exploitative and not respectful of human individuality." But she urged Mr. Rock not to ban all kinds of cloning.

"It is important that the legislation be worded carefully so it doesn't ban cloning that may very well be of great benefit in research," she said.

Dr. Jeffrey Turner, president of Nexia Biotechnologies Inc. of Montreal, the company that cloned the goat triplets, also welcomed federal legislation on human cloning. "We do want to make sure people are comfortable with it and so this is a good idea."

In July, 1995, the government announced a voluntary moratorium on nine reproductive technologies, but soon admitted it wasn't working.

In June 1996, it introduced Bill C-47, which tried to outlaw 13 reproductive and genetic procedures, including human cloning, research on human embryos outside the human body, gene therapy that would alter future generations, diagnoses involving embryos that let parents, for non-medical reasons, choose the gender of their baby, and removing sperm or eggs from foetuses or human corpses.

Critics said the legislation would impede scientific advances which one day might help to drastically improve treatment of human degenerative illnesses, including some forms of cancer and spinal cord injuries. Opponents included the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Bar Association. The proposed law died after the 1997 federal election was called.

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