Letter to the Federal Health Minister Regarding the Lack of Government Leadership on Embryonic Stem

Thursday, 03 July 2003
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The Honourable A. Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Health
16th Floor, Brooke Claxton Building
Tunney's Pasture
Postal Locator 0916A
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0K9

Dear Ms. McLellan:

On June 28, 2003 the Board of Directors of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) met in Ottawa. The Board is made up of a multi-disciplinary group of resource people in ethics, health care, theology, law, business, and education and includes lay people and bishops from across the country.

COLF was founded to promote respect for human life and dignity and the essential role of the family. Members of the Board are, therefore, very troubled by the present lack of Government leadership on marriage and the current legislative vacuum on the reproductive and genetic technologies.

At our Board meeting we discussed how very disappointed we are that the Government has chosen not to appeal the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal that allows same-sex partners to marry. This inaction on the part of the Government flies in the face of the motion passed overwhelmingly by members of the House of Commons, including yourself, just four years ago "to take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve" the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. We and the many other Canadians who took the time to participate in the democratic process initiated by the Minister of Justice and facilitated by the Justice Committee feel terribly let down by the failure of the Government to act for the good of all.

It is now almost ten years since the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technologies recommended strong Government action in the prohibition of several uses of these technologies including cloning, animal/human hybrids, commercial surrogacy and the commodification of gametes. In 1997 Bill C-47, which would have prohibited these activities, died on the order paper because of an election call and in the last two years there have been draft legislation, Bill C-56 and Bill C-13. The Standing Committee has had two sets of hearings and countless individuals and organizations, including our own, have appeared before the Committee. As you know, Bill C-13 has been in the process of third reading in the House of Commons since January.

Throughout this most recent attempt to legislate on the reproductive and genetic technologies we have affirmed the positive elements of the various bills and insisted that embryonic humans be accorded the same protection as all vulnerable members of the community. Like many other Canadians, we have encouraged legislators and scientists to forsake embryonic stem cell research in favour of the evermore promising avenue of adult stem cell research.

We were genuinely shocked at the media reports that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), a body created by the Federal Government and publicly funded, intends to move into the legislative vaccum and proceed with the funding of embryonic stem cell research. We are equally troubled that you, as the Minister of Health, have apparently done nothing to stop them when the House of Commons is in the process of deciding whether this highly controversial research should even be permitted.

The Government's lack of response to the move by CIHR is looking disturbingly familiar to the Government's failure to protect marriage. Once again, a small unelected body appears to be making significant social policy at the expense of the democratic process. This cavalier attempt by CIHR to preempt Parliament disregards the efforts of thousands of involved Canadians and has wide ramifications for the meaning of human life and dignity and our life together in community.

We urge you as the Minister of Health to impose without further delay a moratorium on all research involving human embryos until a just law is passed.

Sincerely yours,

+Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Archbishop of Halifax
Catholic Organization for Life and Family

Mr. Jean Chrétien, P.C., M.P., The Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada
Mr. Martin Cauchon, P.C., M.P., the Honourable Minister of Justice and
Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Stephen Harper, M.P., leader of the Canadian Alliance
Mr. Gilles Duceppe, M.P., leader of the Bloc Quebecois
Mr. Peter MacKay, M.P., leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
Mr. Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada