Bill C-13: Commentators in Denial

Dianne N. Irving
Reproduced with Permission

Two recent commentaries on Bill C-13 exemplify, in different ways, how easy it is to deny reality in critical and controversial legislative issues.

In his recent "op ed" ("'Surplus'embryos? No such thing", National Post Feb. 24, 2003), Fr. DeSouza applauds Bill C-13 for prohibiting both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning, but warns that it fails to prohibit the destructive use of "surplus" embryos in cloning and other research. In support of his observations, he unravels the ruse of "when human life begins", explaining that scientifically we know that it begins at conception (fertilization). Yet, despite the Bill's flaws, Fr. DeSouza concludes: "That is not to say that the bill should necessarily be defeated." C-13 "is clearly better than the current legislative vacuum", he notes -- and "the best we can hope for" is to avoid "some evils" and save "some lives" even with such "muddled philosophy."

But what is "muddled" is Fr. DeSousa's observations. C-13 would still allow both therapeutic and reproductive cloning of living human embryos. Perhaps he does not see the difference between his term "surplus" embryo (e.g., a human embryo produced sexually by IVF) and an "in vitro" embryo (defined in the Bill only as "existing outside the body of a human being", without reference to sexual or a-sexual production). Yet by defining "when a human life begins" only in terms of sexual reproduction -- he thereby in effect denies the reality of human beings produced a-sexually by cloning. Are a-sexually reproduced human embryos not also "innocent living human beings", deserving of the same rights and protections because of what they are as those sexually produced? This would deny the reality of human monozygotic twins!

And given the recent doctrinal note from the Vatican, along with the courageous clarifications from Archbishop Exner, no bill is better than the current legislative vacuum -- because only morally licit means may be used to limit the evil in current or pending legislation. A bill that still allows human cloning cannot by definition be a morally licit means. A "little bit of evil" doesn't make it.

Similarly, the recent appeal to Parliament by certain bioethicists (and their funders) also denies the reality of a-sexually reproduced human embryos. In a plea to save the use of the SCNT cloning technique for "therapeutic cloning" purposes, Timothy Caulfield and other bioethicists are urging Parliamentarians not to ban it. Yes, they argue, "therapeutic" cloning and "reproductive" cloning use similar [indeed, the same!] techniques. But, it is foolish, they conclude ad absurdum, to ban a technique just because it might be abused, and in further support for their position they cite off-beat legislation in California, and poll results that wouldn't pass a t-test.

Yet the absurdity -- and the denial -- is that no where do these bioethicists mention that the "technique" used is not the issue. The immediate product of the technique is the issue. And the immediate product of any human cloning technique is an a-sexually reproduced single-cell innocent living human being who is going to be allowed to grow bigger and then destroyed for its "stem cells" for "therapeutic" purposes. As most bioethicists, they believe that "clone and kill" is good public policy "in liberal democracies".

These bioethicists are certain that "the public is completely capable of understanding the distinction between reproductive cloning and cloning for the purpose of research." You bet they do. Trying to decipher C-13 for months has been a real education, and now they do understand that the distinction lies only in two possible uses of these living human embryos. The public knows that the "distinction" between "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning peddled by bioethicists is a distinction without a real moral difference.

Oddly, these bioethicists failed to mention to the Parliamentarians the recent fate of the New Jersey "clone and kill" bill. Just in time, the people of New Jersey realized how deceptive the supposed "ban" on human cloning was, and the bill was pulled. Especially deceptive was its definition of "a cloned human being" as beginning after the newborn stage. Legal experts agreed that this would allow "reproductive" cloning before the newborn stage, opening a Pandora's Box of freakish human embryo and human fetal farming. But C-13 wouldn't be so foolish as to try something similar -- or would it?

The first "principle" of C-13 states that "the health and well-being of children born through the application of ART technologies must be given priority." But no where in the bill are human embryos or fetuses defined as "human children". It is in the Criminal Code that a human child is defined as beginning after birth. Is that why the bill defines "a foetus" from the 57th day after fertilization or creation until birth exclusive of "any time during which its development has been suspended, and ending at birth?" Hello? The development of a foetus -- that has been suspended?

Being in denial is bad enough; being a fool is worse.