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On reproductive technology

Unpublished letter to the editor sent to the Globe & Mail March 24, 1997

By Kay Stockholder

Bill C-47 is being rushed through Parliament with little careful thought about its serious consequences, or adequate opportunity for public input. The legislation would criminalize the use of several new reproductive technologies, including surrogate motherhood, sex selection and human cloning.

Last week, the Standing Committee on Health crammed representations from 36 groups into one and a half hour sessions, four groups at a time. That was it for citizensy; input. During the session at which I made a representation on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, all four witnesses raised fundamental objections to using the criminal law instead of regulatory procedures. We were told by the Committee not to waste our time on principled objections but to limit ourselves to suggesting minor changes, because Bill C-47 would be passed regardless. This shows a disgraceful disrespect for citizens’ role in a democracy, and is a dangerous way to make law.

The argument for this paternalistic legislation is that these technologies “may cause harm” and that the commercialization of human reproduction threatens the dignity of women and children.

There are two problems here. First, under the guise of defending women’s dignity, Bill C-47 actually undermines it by needlessly restricting womeny;s autonomy. It reduces the dignity of adult women to that of reproductive tissues and implies that adult women are no more capable of giving consent than children. Second, the heavy hand of the criminal law should be used only where there is clear and serious harm to others, only when no lesser means are available, and only when the harm done by the law does not exceed the harm it is meant to address. Bill C-47 violates all three of these principles.

New reproductive technologies open awesome horizons. The prospect for their use cannot but arouse both great excitement and great fear. Infertile couples are given renewed hope for having a family, while almost everyone is repelled by the idea of custom-made babies. However, while our gut responses must be taken into account, by themselves they are not adequate grounds for creating such a far-reaching and invasive criminal law.

Our elected legislators should call on their reason rather than only their instincts, or their political opportunism, as they go about the business of crafting law. Canadians should oppose the passage of Bill C-47 as it stands. It both demeans women and distorts the criminal law.