Canadian Supreme Court Decision Could Lead to Cloning Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 28, 2010   |   2:53PM   |   Ottawa, Canada

Canadian pro-life advocates are concerned a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada could pave the way for grisly research involving cloning and merging different species.

Last week, on a split 4-4-1 decision, the nation’s high court left what pro-life advocates say is a legal void that could lead to cloning research involving the fusing of humans with animals and results in the destruction of human embryos — unique human beings just days into their existence.

“It’s a gross affront to human dignity, that kind of experiment,” Archbishop Richard Smith, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Canadian Catholic News. It’s not a matter of health care but a fundamental issue of human dignity that must rest on national law.”

“We’re talking about a fundamental question of life itself and dignity of human life, this is a consideration that transcends provincial and national boundaries,” he added.

The decision concerns a court opinion issued in Quebec saying sections of the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act were unconstitutional. The Quebec Court of Appeal determined the law was under provincial control and the high court affirmed that decision. Led by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, four judges said the law fell under federal powers while four dissented and said they fell under provincial. Justice Thomas Cromwell agreed with the provincial supporters, but for different reasons.

The Catholic News Service indicates the Canadian bishops joined the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to intervene in the case and said there are key ethical concerns at hand and laws are needed to stop such grisly research across Canada.

McLachlin’s decision appeared to underscore those concerns as she warned how “playing God with genetic manipulation” is a problem and “Different medical experiments and treatments will raise different issues. Few will raise ‘moral’ issues of an order approaching those inherent in reproductive technologies.”

“The creation of human life and the processes by which it is altered and extinguished, as well as the impact this may have on affected parties, lie at the heart of morality,” McLachlin wrote. ” Parliament has a strong interest in ensuring that basic moral standards govern the creation and destruction of life, as well as their impact on persons like donors and mothers.”

The Canadian law prohibits human cloning for reproductive purposes but allows scientists to clone human embryos to kill for their stem cells is unconstitutional. During the debate on the legislation, pro-life advocates applauded the reproductive cloning ban but said allowing scientists to clone and kill human beings for research was immoral and unethical.

The Quebec court issued a 53-page ruling saying the provisions in the bill are unconstitutional because they encroach on provincial jurisdictions.

The court said human cloning should be considered a health matter regulated by the individual provinces rather than a criminal matter subject to federal law. The Quebec provincial government had brought the lawsuit and made the claim that the Canadian Parliament wrongly put forth law that should be left to its provincial government.

The Senate approved the law in March 2004 after a long wait following passage of the legislation by the House of Commons on a 149-109 vote.