Pastoral Message by the CCCB Permanent Council To be People of Life and for Life (Evangelium Vitae, no. 78): Reflections on the Implications of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act

Thursday, November 24 2005

1.      More than a year ago now, on 29 March 2004, after 15 years of consultations, draft proposals, bills, parliamentary committees and countrywide debates, as well as a Royal Commission, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act became law.

2.      Recently, a number of proposed regulations were published for implementing the legislation. Members of the public have been invited to submit comments, with further proposals for additional regulations expected over the next few years (see Canada Gazette, 17 September 2005, Vol. 139, No. 38, Part I, pp. 3037-57). At the same time, there are also demands in Canada for legislation that provides less protection for the human embryo.

3.      Catholics can and should support legislation that respects the inherent dignity and value of human life, preserves the integrity and diversity of creation, promotes responsible stewardship, cares for the vulnerable and serves the common good.

4.      The Assisted Human Reproduction Act addresses a number of concerns for which legislation was needed. These include the prohibitions of reproductive and therapeutic cloning, commercial surrogacy, germ-line alteration, and many forms of commercialization. As well, the Act excludes the human embryo from the definition of “reproductive material”.

5.      For Catholics and all other persons who share the same views about the fundamental value of human life and the dignity of the human person in all stages of life, the most significant defect of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act is its failure to prohibit what is immoral – the destruction of the human embryo.

6.      The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently and persistently asked in its many presentations on this question over the years that any research or treatment involving the human embryo respect the integrity of human life, and that the human embryo not be treated as a simple object or commodity. During the course of the discussions on the legislation, many scientists and ethicists defined the human embryo as a human being. While not everyone agreed that the embryo is to be protected and respected as a person, there was a consensus that the embryo is human, that all human beings begin as embryos, that human life unfolds as a continuum, and that in a real sense the human embryo is “one of us”.

7.      The Act prohibits the creation of human embryos for research purposes except in order to provide instruction or to improve assisted reproduction procedures. Research is also permitted on human embryos that remain after fertility treatments, on the condition that the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency is satisfied this use is necessary for the purpose of the proposed research. Since such research has been going on since 1987, and since before the Act there had been no protection for the embryo, it can be said that the Assisted Human Reproduction Act now offers limited protection for the human embryo.

8.      However, what is unacceptable and regrettable is that research continues without concern about the destruction of numerous human embryos.   Moreover, the legislation fails to protect the freedom of conscience and religion of those researchers and technicians who for ethical reasons object to this destruction of the human embryo.

9.      As indicated in paragraph 73 of Evangelium Vitae, the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II on the value and inviolability of human life, politicians are frequently confronted with the difficult decision on how best to limit the harm done by a law. In the case of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, the question was whether the harm to the human embryo could best be limited by the adoption of imperfect legislation or by opposing it in the hope of new legislation that would offer complete protection to the embryo. Some of the factors that politicians had to consider in their discernment were their duty and desire to call society to a deeper respect and understanding of human life; their obligation to get the best possible protection for the human embryo; the measure of protection provided to the human embryo by the prohibitions in the Act; the lack of legislation protecting the embryo inside or outside the womb; what had been up to then unrestricted research on embryos; and the consequences of continuing in a legislative void.

10.       Royal assent to the Act, granted on 29 March 2004, did not end this moral and ethical debate. In developing regulations for the full implementation of the Act, Health Canada is to hold consultations with respect to such topics as consent, in vitro embryo research, clinical and laboratory practices, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, health reporting information, counselling, and the administration of the licensing and inspection/enforcement framework. It is imperative that the preparation of these regulations continue to involve public consultations which will also provide occasion to review the implementation of the Act. Furthermore, it is important to encourage other means of research that can benefit humanity without destroying a human life.

11.       As Pope John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, no. 78, Christians are called to be “people of life and for life….” This involves choosing life in small ways and large, standing up for life even when it is small and fragile, like the embryo, and supporting couples who struggle with infertility. The Scriptures proclaim that faith and life are integrally related.

12.    The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops encourages Catholics to participate in the consultations on implementing the legislation. Catholic groups and individual Catholic citizens should urge legislators to promote greater respect for life and to offer better protection for all stages of human life, including the embryo, as well as adequate safeguards to protect researchers and technicians who object to research that results in the destruction of the human embryo. Concern for human life at all its stages constitutes an essential characteristic of Christian faith.

Permanent Council
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Members of the Permanent Council:

Most Reverend André Gaumond, Archbishop of Sherbrooke, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg, Vice President
Most Reverend Pierre Morissette, Bishop of Baie-Comeau, Co-Treasurer
Most Reverend James M. Wingle, Bishop of St. Catharines, Co-Treasurer
His Eminence Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada
His Eminence Aloysius M. Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto
His Eminence Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal
Most Reverend Michael Bzdel, C.Ss.R., Archeparch of Winnipeg and Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada
Most Reverend Roger Ébacher, Archbishop of Gatineau
Most Reverend André Richard, C.S.C., Archbishop of Moncton
Most Reverend Raymond J. Lahey, Bishop of Antigonish
Most Reverend Martin Veillette, Bishop of Trois-Rivières
Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V., Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
Most Reverend Lawrence Huculak, O.S.B.M., Ukrainian Eparchial Bishop of Edmonton
Most Reverend Ronald P. Fabbro, C.S.B., Bishop of London
Most Reverend Robert Harris, Auxiliary Bishop of Sault Ste-Marie

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