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SOCI - Standing Committee

Social Affairs, Science and Technology


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 1 - Evidence - Meeting of February 19, 2004

OTTAWA, Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-6, respecting assisted human reproduction and related research, met this day at 11:00 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.


Mr. Daniel Charbonneau, Clerk of the Committee: Honourable senators, I must inform you of the absence of the chair and that the deputy chair will be leaving shortly to speak at another engagement. Pursuant to the Rules of the Senate, I have been asked to preside over the election of an acting chair. I will now accept nominations.

Senator LeBreton: I move that Senator Yves Morin be the acting chair of this meeting.

Mr. Charbonneau: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Yves Morin (Acting Chairman) in the Chair.

The Acting Chairman: Thank you. Some of us have a special caucus at one o'clock, which means that we should break at around quarter to one. That does leave us enough time, but I wish to remind you of this.

Before I start, Sonya Norris, the library researcher, has been involved with this bill now for 12 years. She is one of the Canadian experts on this issue. She is quite prepared to meet with any senator, if you wish either a general briefing on the bill or on any specific point you would like to raise, concerning stem cells or anything else. This is a complex and technical bill, so if you would like to meet with Sonya, her phone number is 995-3475. Give her a call and she will meet you in your office. She is very helpful.

This morning, senators, we are meeting with a panel. We will follow the order as indicated here. Each witness will speak for approximately 10 minutes and, after the last speaker, we will have questions. I am happy to welcome on your behalf, Dr. Mick Bhatia, from the Robarts Research Institute in London.

Mr. Mick Bhatia, Director, Robarts Research Institute: I will start by introducing myself. I am purely a basic scientist working in biomedical research at the Robarts Research Institute. I was recently appointed director there of the stem cell biology and regenerative medicine group and I am an associate professor at the faculty of medicine.

Currently, I serve as a consultant, with no financial interest, for a few companies that work in the stem cell area in the U.S. — Geron, Advancell, Chiron and Biopure. However, my expertise more recently is in the area of human embryonic stem cell work. My laboratory has published, I believe right now, the only three papers that have been peer reviewed in the human embryonic stem cell field. I will speak to that component of the bill before you.

In terms of the bill itself, I will focus on the use of existing cell lines, embryonic stem cells and the creation of new stem cells using reproductive materials. I will start, by way of introduction, with stem cells from my perspective. One of the uses, which I think is the most obvious to most people and probably not arguable, is the potential for therapy. I will not go over that, other than to say that the stem cells have a potential to become mature cell types that can be transplanted and, therefore, replace cells that have been damaged due either to genetic disease or to injury.

I thought I would focus on the less discussed components of stem cells, namely, the use in understanding fundamental biological processes, both in how cells make decisions to become one cell type or another, or regrow or choose to die. Some of these processes cannot be studied in other cells and, therefore, stem cells are crucial to the understanding of this biology.

In addition to that, there are also unique opportunities in the use of stem cells for understanding gene expression and protein expression. That cannot be done in other cell types, since those cell types do not express these particular genes, and there is a window of development in you will, of stem cells that we cannot find by addressing this in human samples.

Regarding the bill, however, that does not speak to which stem cells would necessarily be the best. I thought I would divide these into two. One certainly is in the mouse, where the bulk of our stem cell knowledge comes from; the other is the comparison to the human. When one thinks about stem cells, one thinks about alternatives. One, obviously, is the mouse. The mouse models and the use of mouse stem cells provide us with a wealth of knowledge, but there is some difficulty in understanding how predictive the situation in the mouse will be to the human scenario. Some examples are very clear. That includes drug therapy for cancer that has not really panned out successfully in the clinical scenario, whereas it works very successfully in the mouse. There is a huge need to look at alternative predictive models. Therefore, the mouse stem cells, although providing information, are not as useful if we want direct application.

The second is the use of human cells, but the other type of stem cell, namely, the adult stem cell. A good example of this would be cells in the bone marrow that make the blood system. They are currently transplanted at several sites and, therefore, stem cell transplants actually occur today in Canada. One of the difficulties in the use of stem cells, in my opinion, is the fact that there is discordance between the amount of tissue that can be donated and the number of recipients requiring a transplant. Therefore there are limited numbers of cells. There has been a lot of work done to try to regrow these cells and grow large numbers of them to compensate for this deficiency; however, adult stem cells have limited growth potential. Therefore, you have a problem in terms of being able to get enough cells to transplant.

A lot of excitement worldwide has occurred because of the idea, for example, of blood stem cells not only being able to produce blood, but also other cell types, specifically, liver cells, potentially, neurons in the brain, and a variety of others. However, more recently, this has been shown to be an extremely rare event that is probably restricted to very defined mouse experimental models. Also, it has been shown that many laboratories are unable to reproduce some of these earlier findings, making it very difficult to move forward and study at a fundamental process level or even suggest that they could be used at a clinical level.

This leaves us with another alternative, namely, human embryonic stem cells, which are germane to this bill. The immune function of these cells is very low and rejection is not as vigorous as it would be for adult stem cells. That is a difference in the properties between adult and embryonic cells. In addition, the embryonic stem cells are very robust in terms of their growth. They can grow almost indefinitely in culture, in a dish, and therefore some of the problems that one would have with adult stem cells certainly do not exist for the human embryonic stem cells, which is one of their intrinsic properties.

More important is the unique developmental potential of embryonic stem cells. They can become multiple cell types. They can be used, or thought to be very important, for transplanting those cell types into patients who have disease or injury.

Again, what I would like to focus on is that, in addition to using them directly, because you can differentiate or change these cells in an experimental model, and as a scientist who is interested in this, I feel we can learn things about stem cells that actually may be applicable to using adult stem cells in a way that we never would have predicted. It almost becomes a vehicle for us to gain an understanding of human embryonic stem cells that could apply potentially to the adult stem cell scenario.

If we focus on human embryonic stem cells, certainly there are stem cells already available. The United States originally indicated that they had several cell lines that could be distributed. After the announcement of August 9, 2001, by President Bush, there was a halt on the creation of new lines, at least using NIH funds.

The problem with the existing lines is that although our lab currently has six lines that we have been able to import from different places, all of them respond completely differently. Therefore, it makes it very difficult to study. That is the inherent property of these cells.

In addition, the original claim was that there were 98 cell lines available, but that has dwindled down to only 11. It now seems that there are only potentially four that can actually be used in a reproducible manner. The numbers are very small and access is also difficult.

Many of these cell lines have been developed around the world using processes or values, including consent forms, that are really not something that, under the CIHR guideline and this bill, Canada would want to bring into use. In addition, much of the financing came from companies, and then there are many restrictions in terms of the use of those cells, of academic freedom and material transfer agreements and so forth that need to be signed.

In a more pragmatic sense, all of the cell lines currently available are also, in my view, contaminated with bovine or mouse proteins, making it very difficult to think about transplanting them into patients, because it could be considered a different species or xeno product.

From a Canadian perspective, there is a need to develop new embryonic stem cell lines that do not have these types of restrictions.

I wish to add that at present, with a combination of published and unpublished work, there are 11 countries around the world with one to seven sites that are already deriving cell lines. When I originally provided a short testimony a few months ago, I suggested that Canada had an opportunity to be ahead of the field in human embryonic stem cells. At this point, that has drastically changed. Many other countries have already moved ahead. Given the bill before you, in order for us to at least be on a par with those other places, we must have a firm decision on how we will move ahead with this — or not — in what I believe is an extremely important search.

Mr. Clement Persaud, retired professor in Biotechnology, as an individual: Honourable senators, I have a handout which I would like you to use as a basis for my remarks. If you would be so kind as to refer to this, I will walk you through it.

As indicated on page 2, I would like to speak to these aspects: embryo research, the science and ethics. I will propose the view that embryo destruction for stem cells is unnecessary and that blood, umbilical cord and marrow stem cells are a viable alternative.

I begin with the definition of a ``zygote.'' A zygote is the cell that results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being, an embryo. Those emphases were used by Moore and Persaud — an unrelated Persaud — to underline that a human being begins then. This is a scientific definition: It is a scientific entity and is unrelated to religious considerations.

With that in mind, I would like to address the prohibited activities in Bill C-6. Item (b) states as follows:

Create an in vitro embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being or improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures.

This implies that we will legislate the creation of embryos just for study or teaching purposes. I can imagine that one day I will have — if you will pardon me, this sounds dramatic but may I have that licence — 20 students in my lab and I will say, ``We have 20 embryos: Let us see how they survive. You do 10 and you do 10 and let us compare results.'' The definition has just stated, ``They are human beings.''

A corollary is that we are experimenting with innocent, defenceless human beings, each one made in the image of the creator and endowed with unique status. This is merely a create-and-discard approach and is an affront to our humanity.

What would I propose as an alternative? There are alternatives. For example, there are scientists using dog embryos for stem cells at the University of Guelph. In Ottawa, Dr. Jay Baltz, of the Ottawa Health Research Institute, has been using mouse embryos to study the uptake of the amino acid glycine and has found some interesting results — that it may cause an enlargement of embryos and may facilitate or even improve the chances of eventual implantation.

I have a suggestion for the members of the committee for an inclusion under prohibited activities. That inclusion would speak to selection of embryos for specific traits. For example, parents could go to a clinic, if we do not plug this loophole, and the scientist says, ``Here is an embryo with a gene complex for short, and here is another embryo with a gene complex for tall.'' The parents might say, ``We will take the embryo with the tall gene.'' That is not changing the genome or gene line; that is merely selecting for a trait. You will agree, I am sure, that eugenics is not far behind.

The issue that worries me the most under prohibited activities is that the proposed legislation would allow the maintenance of an embryo outside the body of a female person after the 14th day of its development following fertilization. Up to the 14th day, that embryo can be destroyed for the extraction of stem cells. I believe that this crosses a threshold. May I stand at this point so that all can see this? I know it is crude, but if I could use this to represent an embryo just to demonstrate my point, this could be a one-week embryo. Let us say it has about 200 cells in all. What we are proposing is the cutting or destroying of that embryo. When we do that, we look inside and this is what we would see at about a week or so; these would be the stem cells, called the inner cell mass.

Honourable senators, after a week, this embryo has already dedicated itself. The placenta will be formed. The inner layer will eventually form the baby. This is a one-week-old embryo. Even if we were to take the embryonic stem cells, use them and produce some medical breakthroughs, and that may happen, we still have to confront the larger issue: Is it worth the price of destroying human beings?

On the next page, there is discussion on embryonic vis-à-vis adult stem cells, but may I bring to your attention one fact, fairly recent in the literature. After growing in a lab for several months, human embryonic stem cells develop genetic abnormalities. The cells developed extra bits of chromosome 12 or 17. This comes from Andrews, from Britain, and James Thomson, who is one of the pioneers in stem cell cultures.

On the next page, I speak to adult stem cells, namely three, the peripheral blood stem cells, umbilical cord blood stem cells and bone marrow stem cells. It is my own assessment that these are three of the most exciting areas involving non-embryonic stem cells. They have been proving themselves. I must say as well that it is a work in progress and we may encounter some difficulty, but at the moment, they are delivering the best therapeutic results. I will mention just one. It has created a real buzz in the cardiology community. In Germany, the United States and in Ottawa, cardiologists or scientists have been taking blood or bone marrow stem cells, transforming them and injecting them into hearts, and in Germany they have found that hearts were beating better after stem cell injections. It appeared that the stem cells engrafted successfully and functioned normally.

Now, I ask myself, what are Canadian attitudes? Here is a snapshot. A recent Leger poll in October of last year, based on 1,500 respondents: 21 per cent of those responding said stem cell research is okay, whether embryonic or other sources; 37 per cent said they would prefer other, non-embryonic sources; and when told — and this is important — that the embryonic cells required the destruction of embryos, 33 per cent objected and felt it would be unacceptable. If you add the two bottom numbers, 70 per cent of Canadians, based on this poll, are saying that deriving stem cells from embryos is unsatisfactory to unacceptable.

With that in mind, I suggest that we ban embryo research and embryo destruction, because it is fraught with moral and societal concerns that, in my humble opinion, outweigh scientific and utilitarian considerations, despite regulation and informed consent. Essentially, there is a constant principle of morality that says we should never do evil that good may result. If a thing is bad or wrong, regulating it or requiring informed consent does not give it a veneer of being good.

I am suggesting a three-year moratorium on embryo destruction or stem cell extraction while we look at results coming from adult stem cells. I conclude with these thoughts. The issue is larger than just science. It is also an issue of ethics, of morality and of justice, and these considerations need to come to the table as well as the medical and scientific. I respect those too. I close with the wisdom of Solomon, who said that we are to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, judge fairly and defend the rights of the poor and needy, and when we propose laws, they should be compassionate.

Mr. Samuel Weiss, Professor, University of Calgary: Honourable senators, thank you for the honour and privilege of appearing before your committee to provide you with some of my impressions regarding Bill C-6, an act respecting human reproduction. Before I provide comments on the proposed legislation, and specifically regarding certain clauses, please permit me to give you a brief background as to why I believe I have been asked to appear.

I am a basic scientist with an interest in understanding how the brain is formed and how it may be regenerated after injury or disease. In 1992, my laboratory was the first in the world to discover adult stem cells in the brains of mammals, specifically in mice. Over the past 12 years, adult stem cells have also been found in human brains, and global research efforts suggest that these stem cells may be part of a new approach to brain regeneration and repair. You may have heard some scientists or laypersons suggest that adult brain stem cells and adult bone marrow stem cells may be reprogrammed to produce other cells such as blood cells, et cetera. However, I should state as an adult stem cell biologist that most current studies show that the most likely use of adult brain stem cells is to repair the tissues from which they are derived.

My professional activities and interest in stem cells extend beyond the brain, and as such, I have been actively involved in developing a thorough understanding of different stem cells from different ages and tissues and how these may be used to advance the health and welfare of Canadians. I have learned that in some clear cases, one of which I will elaborate on momentarily, embryonic stem cells may offer the greatest hope to cure otherwise incurable and debilitating diseases. Thus, I am compelled to believe that we are at the frontier of stem cell research, in particular here in Canada, where parallel studies of both embryonic and adult stem cells constitute the greatest promise for alleviating suffering for millions of Canadians who are experiencing devastating disease. It is in this context that I appear before you today.

I believe that Bill C-6 is an incredibly important and fundamental piece of proposed legislation for Canadians. The objective of safeguarding the health and welfare of Canadians and ensuring the dignity and protection of human life is paramount. The establishment of a regulatory agency to oversee activities related to human reproduction is important and insightful; however, I would maintain that several clauses within the proposed legislation are worthy of further consideration, as in their present form, they may in fact be contrary to the stated principles of the bill.

My greatest concern is regarding 5(1)(a) and (b), which prohibit, ban and criminalize the creation of a human clone, or the creation of an in vitro human embryo for any purpose other than creating a human being through assisted human reproduction, respectively. I will contend this clause, and these two subclauses specifically, might be contrary to the principle of promotion of human health.

As regards 5(1)(a), to begin, I do concur that we should not allow cloning of human beings to generate identical copies of humans, past or present. On the other hand, banning of human clones in their entirety as defined in the current version of the bill will include banning the creation of embryonic-like cells that offer the best hope for generating new tissues that could be transplanted without being rejected. Moreover, if the science of adult human stem cells, for example, from the brain, were to be advanced to the point where we could program them to act like embryonic cells, with the potential to make many other cell types, this clause could be interpreted to ban and criminalize their use. Is this the intention of the proposed legislation? Is this in the best interests of Canadians? I would say no.

As regards 5(1)(b), I am sure you are all aware of the devastating impact that diabetes has on both children and adults who are unfortunate enough to have contracted this previously incurable disease. This disease results in a huge compromise in the quality and length of life of those afflicted and are lifelong dependants on repeated daily injections of insulin. In addition, I am sure that you are aware that the increasing incidence of diabetes amongst our Canadian native population is reaching epidemic proportions. You may have heard about the Edmonton Protocol for diabetes. This world-heralded, made-in-Canada procedure has shown for the first time that it is possible to cure diabetes by transplanting islet cells from donors to recipients, allowing these recipients to live long, normal lives. Unfortunately, however, while thousands of Canadians are pleading with their physicians for this procedure, the numbers that can be treated are severely limited because islet cells can only at present be obtained from healthy cadavers, that being those who have donated their organs after death.

On the other hand, it may very well be that only embryonic stem cells can generate the healthy islet cells that could improve health and ensure a long life for thousands of Canadians. As far as we know, there are no adult stem cells that can generate islet cells. Subclause 5(1)(b) will limit, if not prevent, the widespread curing of diabetes amongst Canadians. Those with financial resources may choose to go to other countries to receive the benefit of this promising therapy. Thousands of others will continue to suffer.

In addition — and this will be reiterated when I discuss my concerns about one other clause — it is likely that the Edmonton pioneers, and others, may be compelled to move to the U.S. or Europe, where both therapeutic cloning and creation of human embryos for generating stem cells are likely to continue to be controlled but not banned or criminalized. Again, I would contend that this is not in keeping with the principles of this bill.

My experience as an academic leader suggests that if one is to criticize a proposal, then one must have a proposed change. I would suggest that either clause 5 be redrafted to distinguish between the use of clones and/or in-vitro- generated embryos for therapeutic purposes, of which the latter should become a controlled rather than banned activity, or alternatively, that provisions be made to revisit these banned activities at a reasonable time in the future.

My final concern is related to clause 11. This clause makes combining any part of the human genome with that of another species a controlled activity requiring a licence. Over the past 25 years, advances in recombinant DNA technologies have remitted incredible research into and therapy for human disease. In particular, the transfer of minute pieces of human DNA into mice, so-called transgenic mice, is the foundation of research into genetic disease and new cures being discovered in hundreds of laboratories and biotechnology companies in this country.

If, each time a new experiment of this nature was contemplated, a new licence should be required, the breadth and competitiveness of Canada's biomedical enterprise will suffer immeasurably. Moreover, it will likely compel an additional group of researchers and entrepreneurs to leave this country. Once again, I am certain that this is not the intent of this clause. The suggestion here is to redraft this clause to clarify the amount of genetic material being considered, for example, whole chromosomes, which may be considered as potentially conferring human traits on a non-human species.

As a final thought, please allow me to summarize: It is clear from an abundant number of recent surveys in this country and around the world that the lay community understands the distinction between manipulating human embryos and reproductive material for non-therapeutic purposes as opposed to therapeutic purposes. To indefinitely ban and criminalize such activities, that is, the use and/or generation of human clones and/or in vitro embryos for therapeutic purposes will do the following: One, irreversibly limit Canada's ability to generate, and offer its citizens, hope for stem cell-based cures for devastating illnesses; two, reduce the ability of Canadian scientists, both in the public and private sector, to compete with their peers throughout the world; three, compromise Canada's future position in health care delivery and that of developing industries dependent on knowledge-based biomedical biotechnologies and, as such, place Canada in a potential Third World position in these areas in the future.

I know that this is not your intention, or the intention of Bill C-6, and I thus encourage you to consider these issues carefully.

Dr. Ronald Worton, Chief Executive Officer and Scientific Director, Ottawa Research Institute: Thank you, honourable senators, for the opportunity to be here today. I did provide you with a letter that I had written to all senators and you should have a copy of that. I had written it before I had been invited to come today, and the purpose of the letter was more educational than expressing a particular viewpoint. I thought that it would be valuable to simply ensure you had that letter in advance of today's hearing. I will not read the letter because it is long, but I thought I would summarize it and hit some of the key points.

I am head of the Stem Cell Network. I do not do stem cell research myself any longer, although I used to do a lot of research with adult stem cells from the bone marrow.

The network was put together almost three years ago now in response to a government call to create a network of centres of excellence. Our goal is to make stem cell therapy a reality in this country, in a manner that is consistent with the understanding and the views of the Canadian population and, of course, of the Parliament of Canada.

The network quite deliberately has a group of people who are not just basic scientists working on stem cells, although you have just heard from two of those basic scientists sitting here. It also includes clinicians who are treating patients every day for diseases that could potentially be amenable to stem cell therapy; diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, which you just heard about, muscular dystrophy and others.

We also have in the network social scientists, ethicists, lawyers and law professors who have thought deeply about some of these issues, and I believe you heard from two of those yesterday — Dr. Maria Knoppers and Tim Caulfield.

The network is really trying to ensure that we have all the expertise we need to make good, sound decisions and act in a responsible manner.

In my letter I go to some length to distinguish between what is an embryonic stem cell versus what is an adult stem cell and the advantages of each, and I will not take the time to go through all of that now. I do want to make the point, however, that as written, the proposed legislation would allow the derivation of new embryonic stem cells from very early embryos that were produced by in vitro fertilization and remain in the freezer after the couples who created those embryos have completed their families.

In fact, the model you were just shown a few minutes ago is the blastocyst stage and inside there are the embryonic stem cells. I want to point out that these embryos, if they are not used for research, are normally discarded, although not necessarily always, or they remain in the freezer because the couples have finished their families, they will not have them implanted into the womb, and these embryos will not grow into humans.

To me, it is not a matter of destroying human life, but rather making use of something that is to be discarded anyway because it has such huge potential benefit. I believe the benefit is huge and I will come to that in a moment.

I agree with Dr. Weiss that Bill C-6 is an important piece of proposed legislation. It is proposed legislation that is long overdue and has been in the works in some form since Patricia Baird's royal commission of 12 years ago, and it has been actively discussed and debated now for going on three years. It does provide a regulatory framework within which scientists can work, and it does respect the wishes of the government and the people of Canada to a very large extent.

It is not a perfect bill. You have heard Dr. Weiss, and Dr. Bhatia as well, say that there are some prohibitions in there that from a scientific point of view are troublesome, because they may prevent us from moving in a direction that would lead to new therapies that might become quite important in the future. It is not perfect because there are others, of course, who see even the use of embryos from in vitro fertilization as a problem, even though those embryos are destined not to be used to create life.

I have given you in my letter a brief history. Again, I will not go into that.

It goes back to the early 1960s, when my Ph.D. supervisors, Dr. James Till and Ernest McCulloch at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, identified stem cells in the bone marrow — the very same stem cells that Dr. Bhatia works with and was talking about.

I mentioned in my letter Sam Weiss, whom you just heard, who discovered neural stem cells in the brain; Derek van der Kooy in Toronto, who discovered retinal stem cells in the eye; and Freda Miller, formerly at the Montreal Neurological Institute, now at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who discovered stem cells capable of making nerve cells from the skin.

Canada has played a big role in adult stem cell research, and continues to do so. In fact, most of the members of our network are working on adult stem cells. It is not that we are not interested in adult stem cells; we are acutely interested in adult stem cells. We also want to make sure that we are allowed to work with other kinds of stem cells derived from embryos, because there is good evidence to suggest that those may, in the long run, prove to be more amenable to therapeutic purposes. They do have a greater capacity to differentiate into a broader variety of tissues and to grow indefinitely in cell culture, and they have some other properties that make them attractive for use.

In the long run, we would be delighted if adult stem cells turned out to be the cells of choice and we could work with them only. It would eliminate the need to work with embryos, but we are not there yet. Scientifically, we cannot make that judgment yet. We need to be able to work with embryonic stem cells as well as adult stem cells, comparing their properties, in order to really understand the differences.

This proposed legislation, as written, would allow us to do that, but, of course, only to obtain embryonic stem cells from embryos that were derived by in vitro fertilization and are no longer required for procreation.

I go into some of the evidence for the use of adult stem cells across tissues — being able to take, for example, a stem cell from the bone marrow that normally makes blood and use it to correct a muscle disease, or a stem cell from the muscle and use it to correct a brain disorder. There were some experiments between 1998 and 2001 that showed a great deal of promise in that regard. Subsequent experiments, as my two colleagues have touched on, have not been so promising, and some of those indicated that there were artifacts in some of the early experiments. That is not to criticize the experiments or the scientists who did them; it is just a fact of life that the way science progresses is that as you make your early findings, and they lead you to do more detailed experiments to verify the early results.

I still think there is a chance that there may be a plasticity across tissues, that stem cells from one tissue may be usable to treat diseases in a different tissue. I still hope that we will be able to take stem cells from the bone marrow and use them to treat kids with muscular dystrophy. I have been working on muscular dystrophy for 15 years and it has been my dream that one day we will be able to correct that defect, grow new muscle and allow those children to get out of their wheelchairs and walk again, or even to breathe.

There is some compelling evidence in a few experiments of plasticity from tissue to tissue. One of the pioneers in this field is Catherine Verfaillie. I believe that she was invited to testify at this committee hearing, but I am sure it would have been difficult for her to get here. We have been in touch with Dr. Verfaillie quite frequently. We even obtained a statement from her a year or so ago. Even though she is a committed researcher who has studied adult stem cells, she is making her best efforts to see if she can use bone marrow stem cells to treat diseases that are based on other tissues. She is the first to say that that does not necessarily mean that adult stem cells are the answer. She does not know yet, and we do not know yet. She is a strong advocate of being able to use embryonic stem cells until we get the final proof on which is better.

Is this hype or hope? It is a little of both. I would consider a lot of what we read in the newspapers to be hype. On the other hand, if you listen to some of the most sober scientists in this field who have given it a lot of consideration over the last five years, there is also a lot of hope, and this is coming from people who know what they are talking about.

There is a sense in the scientific community that one day, we will be able to treat some of these awful disorders for which there is currently no treatment with stem cells, that we will be able to regenerate tissues that have degenerated, that we will be able to rebuild part of the brain to cure Parkinson's disease, for example.

However, none of us believe that this will happen within a few days, a few weeks or even a few months. This will take another few years of intensive research to try to understand what makes a stem cell a stem cell. What regulates it? If we are going to put any kind of stem cell from any source into the brain to treat Parkinson's disease, we want to be absolutely sure in advance that it will make neurons that will fix the patient's brain. We do not want it to make bone; that will complicate the situation. That is what I mean by being able to regulate the stem cell behaviour in a transplant situation, and that requires some additional years of research.

In terms of cloning, I talk quite a lot in my letter about the relationship between cloning and stem cells. I want to point out that I personally am against cloning for the purposes of creating an individual. I have been against it right from the beginning, not only because it is bad science but also because it is a bad idea. However, that is different from creating an embryo by somatic cell nuclear transfer and growing it to the stage that you have seen here, where it contains embryonic stem cells, and then removing those cells. There is an advantage to that, and that is that if I take a cell from one of you, from any tissue of your body, and use that to put into that egg, that oocyte, and then develop it to the blastula stage and take out the stem cells, those stem cells are genetically identical to the person who donated that nucleus. Therefore, those stem cells can be used to treat disease in you without the fear of rejection. That could be a big advantage in the future, although, as one of my colleagues pointed out, embryonic stem cells from any source tend to be less likely to elicit an immune response and, therefore, rejection, than adult stem cells.

There is an argument to be made for somatic cell nuclear transfer and the creation of embryos for what the lay press has called ``therapeutic cloning.'' That is a valid argument. I have chosen, personally, as have many of my colleagues in the network, to give up on that, so to speak. We are not sure that government is ready for that. In all my discussions with the Ministry of Health in the earlier phases of this bill, we were willing to put that aside for now, as we do not really need that currently, and wait to see if we need it in the future, because if we insist on being able to use therapeutic cloning, it might elicit a response that would result in the proposed legislation failing to pass.

I still hold that view. I would like to see this bill passed. I am willing to compromise on the use of cloned embryos for research, but I would encourage all of you to ensure that we can take another good look at this proposed legislation in three years' time, because there were experiments reported out of South Korea just last week that included the first successful attempt at extracting stem cells from a cloned human embryo, and that says that it is feasible. We had no doubt that eventually it would be feasible, but now it has become feasible. That might turn out to be the best therapeutic approach. If it does, we do not want Canada to be sitting on the sidelines and we do not want Canadians to not have access to those types of treatments when people in the rest of the world are having their diseases cured. We need to be able to revisit that, and I think that in three years would be a good time to do that.

Senator Roche: Mr. Chairman, my first question is directed to Dr. Worton. However, I will invite the other witnesses to join in.

Dr. Worton, the testimony I heard this morning makes me even more nervous about this bill than I already was. I am discerning that for you and, perhaps, the colleagues on your left, the bill does not go far enough, that you really want to be able to clone embryos to further enhance your research, which gets into the very issue that Mr. Persaud raised, namely, the creation of embryos and the prospect that eugenics will not be far behind. He has asked for a three- year moratorium while the scientific community examines further the efficacy of adult stem cell research. In other words, you really do not know how valuable embryonic stem cell research will be.

What I heard from a number of the witnesses this morning is that the embryonic stem cell research would be an enhancement to present methods concentrating on adult stem cell research. I would certainly want to be seen by you as one who also wants to solve Parkinson's disease and related diseases. However, I have to ask myself if the destruction of life can be morally permitted. I take it that you do not challenge the proposition that an embryo is a human being and, thus, raises the question of the deliberate termination of the prospect of life on the one hand and, going further, as you want to, the scientific creation of that life.

I am not really persuaded. I would like to be able to act, in my own mind, in a responsible manner in this. The conflicting testimony we have had this morning from distinguished persons in the scientific community is further cause for my concern.

Mr. Persaud holds that embryonic destruction is unnecessary and that sufficient scientific research on treatment can be adduced from adult stem cells.

What I am afraid of is that three to five years from now, if this bill goes through, you will be back with a review, all right, but you will be saying, ``Now, let's go further into the cloning of embryos.''

The uncertainty of where all this is going ought to give pause to the political element that has to make laws. For my part, I would rather base my decision on how laws ought to be made on facts, rather than on suppositions or ``Let's see where it goes.''

I have tried to phrase my question to you in a general manner so that you and your colleagues might give a response that could further illuminate for me whether you can live with the present situation, bringing in a moratorium and giving the research on adult stem cells a chance to show what can be produced for the alleviation of human disease.

Dr. Worton, will you start, please?

Dr. Worton: We have been concerned about this all along. Part of the reason why many of my colleagues and I have supported this proposed legislation is because it is balanced. It strikes a balance between the destruction of life and the collection of stem cells from embryos, but only from a small subset of embryos. That subset is embryos created by in vitro fertilization and that are outside the body. It is a subset of embryos that otherwise will not be re-implanted into the womb to create life.

From a practical point of view, no life is lost when those embryos are used to create stem cells. It is true that you have to destroy the embryo in order to collect the embryonic stem cells; but if the embryo was to be discarded anyway, I think it is less of a problem, certainly for me. I would rather use the embryos to do some good, especially for the kids that I see all the time with muscular dystrophy, than see them discarded. That is my rationale for my response to that part of your question, senator.

With regard to the next step, I agree it is a step we must take carefully. It is not a decision that I should be making or Dr. Weiss should be making. It is a decision that, collectively, society should be making. That includes the appropriate legislative procedures, which is why we are here.

The process to create embryonic stem cells through somatic cell nuclear transfer involves starting with an unfertilized ovocyte, removing the nucleus that contains the genetic material and putting in a nucleus derived from an adult cell tissue. You let that go through the process until it looks like this blastocyst.

Is that human life? Is that an embryo? Or is that a nucleus from an adult cell that has been reprogrammed to behave as though it were an embryo? I did not want to get into the semantic argument, but we are talking about a nucleus from an adult being reprogrammed in the environment of the egg so that it behaves more like an embryonic stem cell and therefore may have more potential for therapy. I do not think there is a clear answer as to whether that entity should be defined as an embryo, because it is not the product of a fertilized egg.

I do not know the right answer. There are arguments on both sides. What I would predict is that if it turns out, for whatever reason, that embryonic stem cells, whether from left-over IVF embryos or from cloned embryos, are the best cure for any disease, let us say Parkinson's disease, I do not think there is any way that the government could in good conscience say, ``We will not allow people in Canada to be treated with those stem cells. They will have to live out their lives with Parkinson's disease.''

Senator Roche: Mr. Persaud, you have heard my concerns, which I will not repeat. You have now heard Dr. Worton's response. Would you give us your comment?

Mr. Persaud: I would like to touch on one or two aspects.

The first has to do with the possibility that we might revisit the idea of cloning. The guidelines now before us say we should prohibit creating a human clone using any technique.

I believe the intent and spirit of that is comprehensive. We should not attempt human cloning, and I will give an example. Dr. Worton mentioned the Korean experiment, but the researcher said, at the end, ``I would not recommend this for humans because of possible birth defects.'' If the cloned embryo were allowed to proceed to birth and have birth defects, does it not follow that the embryo itself at an earlier stage would have genetic defects? Why would I want to clone therapeutically when there is such genetic instability? Secondly, it seems reasonable to say that if we do not use the embryos from fertility clinics, they will be discarded anyway. However, I remind you, I have taken the embryo from the freezer, and I have nurtured it and cultured it and fed it to the seventh or eighth day, only to cannibalize its parts. I have difficultly with that. It is an embryo and, if left alone under the proper conditions, it could come to birth. I call it an ``embryo'' and I have not been sensitized to the fact that this may not be an embryo. Those are my preliminary comments.

Senator Roche: I have taken up enough time. I will conclude by referring to Dr. Worton's final sentence in his second intervention, that there are arguments on both sides of this issue. That certainly shows, Mr. Chairman, that when the minister came here yesterday and stated that there is a consensus on this subject, the minister was badly informed and I hope the officials will recognize that.

The Acting Chairman: I realize, Dr. Weiss, you would like to speak to this, but I would like all senators to have a chance to pose their questions. If we have time, I will come back to you on this topic, but it is important for all senators to have a chance to pose questions because some of us have a meeting at one o'clock.

Senator Spivak: The decision here is really whether these activities go forward. The only decision for Canadians is whether they go forward under rational regulation and supervision and will be available for the benefit of Canadians.

This bill is indeed a balanced bill and should go forward, even with its imperfections. My question is really one of curiosity. Bear with me, Mr. Chairman. My question is not directly aimed at what is contentious about the proposed legislation. Dr. Weiss, you stated that thus far, adult stem cells have been found mainly in two or three places and that their properties seem to be mainly for repair of those organs. What stage is that knowledge at? Is it certain knowledge, or is it still to be confirmed? Second, does the scientific community think that adult stem cells could be present everywhere in the body, in the same way they are present in the brain, and I forget the other two places you mentioned? That is again a whole field of inquiry.

Mr. Weiss: I will address both those points in turn: First, the knowledge of adult stem cells; and their potential to be exclusively capable of repairing the host tissue they were derived from versus other tissues of the body. I will address first adult brain stem cells, of which I am acutely aware, and adult bone marrow cells, which have been discussed previously. As far as adult brain stem cells are concerned, there was an early report four years ago that suggested that those cells could be coaxed into becoming another type of stem cell. That has now been found to be absolutely wrong. It has been refuted by at least three publications and at least one half-dozen major scientific meetings. It appears that adult brain stem cells can, normally, and even when coaxed through all kinds of means, make brain cells. It has been demonstrated that in animal models, these adult brain stem cells can contribute to some repair of tissue after a stroke.

The bone marrow stem cells are much more interesting because adult bone marrow stem cells have been shown to be capable of integrating into other tissues of the body, since they are circulating through the bloodstream and have easy access to those tissues. In some cases, those tissues appear to function better. However, the scientific data show that those stem cells never actually become anything other than blood cells in the host tissue. It is thought that if there is any improvement in the biology of the organ in which they now reside, it is largely because they have released some substance there that is helping the tissue repair itself. There is some very interesting biology, but what is unambiguous is that when adult bone marrow stem cells reach other tissues of the body, for the most part, they remain bone marrow cells. That was the first question that you asked.

The second question was whether or not other parts of the body than the bone marrow and the brain have adult stem cells. To date, for the most part, we do not have evidence of that. However, in some tissues, for example, the pancreas, there is some evidence now to suggest that there may be some stem cells in the adult pancreas. However, once again, that is very early research that is very worthy of consideration but has not yet been definitive, and even if there are adult stem cells in these other tissues, it is not clear that they can in any way be stimulated or isolated to allow them to be used in a manner that would be medically applicable.

Senator Spivak: The whole purpose behind the proposed legislation is to enhance health and well-being and repair the effects of disease. Why would scientists pursue a line of activity such as manipulating adult stem cells when they could produce other stem cells? This strikes me as working against nature. What is the feeling in the scientific community about pursuing this particular line of inquiry, when money and brainpower, et cetera, could be focused more usefully on the development of therapeutic treatments for people who are desperately ill?

Mr. Weiss: This is an excellent question. It brings up some very important general points that I will comment on, but I will address that question directly.

Biologists are looking at adult stem cells and the potential to get them to become plastic, so that those from one tissue can be used to repair another, for two reasons. First, from a purely biological perspective, the concept of plasticity, the potential to turn one cell into another cell, is incredibly intriguing. It is remarkably intriguing. Biologists approach that subject from a biological perspective and see it as an interesting question. However, many of those who pursue that question recognize that it is an incredible uphill struggle and contrary to normal biological principles. Second, for the most part, biologists, medical researchers, are in this not simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity but to advance the health and welfare of Canadians. We are conducting those types of experiments precisely to find out if we can do anything to advance the health and welfare of Canadians while also being very considerate of the dignity of life. That brings me to one point I must comment upon, because both you and Senator Roche mentioned it, and that was the issue of this bill not prohibiting any activity.

It does, in fact, prohibit therapeutic cloning.

I will bring up the point that Senator Roche made before. He was troubled by the fact that we were asking for permission for therapeutic cloning to advance our research. I respectfully submit that is not at all the case. In fact, when we suggest that there should be consideration of therapeutic cloning, it is because we wish to save lives and to advance the welfare of thousands of children and adults who suffer from incurable diseases. We do not conduct the research for our welfare, but rather for the welfare of the citizens of this country.

Senator Spivak: Mr. Chairman, I think maybe you should arrange a seminar on this whole issue because it is so fascinating. I would also like to know whether it is good to transfer genes from a fish, for example, into a plant — not only good, but moral.

The Acting Chairman: That is outside the bill, as you realize.

Senator Pearson: My question is of a different order, because I am really more interested in the donors, or those with whom the embryo was created. I have one basic question, which shows my scientific ignorance. You talked about an oocyte by itself. Does an oocyte have the full genetic DNA of the mother? That is just one question. Could you answer it first before I go on to my other question?

Dr. Worton The oocyte has half the DNA of the mother. We all have, in most of the cells of our body, two complete sets of DNA — one inherited from the mother and one from the father. When the oocyte is created, it reduces to half the amount — a single set of chromosomes. It is the same in the sperm, which also has a single set of chromosomes. When the egg is fertilized, you have a double set of chromosomes in the embryo.

Senator Pearson: Which half? This is basic information, but if you only have half your DNA, which pieces are missing?

Dr. Worton It is a random process. The reason that sisters do not necessarily look or behave alike is that they receive different parts of the DNA from their mother and different parts from their father. Identical twins, on the other hand, receive the same set of DNA from their mother and father, and thus they are identical.

Senator Pearson: No, they are not. I have identical grandchildren.

Dr. Worton They are genetically identical.

Senator Pearson: Yes, but certainly not otherwise.

My real question is related to this issue of consent. I have accepted with enthusiasm the possibility of in vitro fertilization. That is not an issue for me. What I do find, and know from fairly direct experience, is that it is a rather wasteful process. The success rate is about one in five in the best clinics. We are talking about a lot of embryos being created and disappearing one way or another — whether they have been kept frozen, discarded or whatever, or they have been inserted and the process has not worked.

That is not a problem for me. I know there will be a lot of deaths of embryos one way or another, and therefore I do not really have much problem with their use, if the parents consent. However, this is where the issue of consent comes in. I think it is important for the couple who have created the embryo to be fully cognizant if they do consent — because they are asked, and I have discovered from discussions with young people who have been doing this that many of them feel extremely uncomfortable that somehow their full DNA will go into some other phenomenon. I think we have to think very carefully about the consent issue, how much information is required, and about the whole psychological process of knowing that somewhere along the line, your and your husband's DNA is floating off into some other component. I think these are very important issues. I am not even sure whether that is a question or comment, but I would like your comment on my comment.

Dr. Worton I would like to give a short answer and then refer it to Dr. Bhatia, if that is okay.

The regulations would require consent. We, the scientific community, would not be allowed to work with any embryos unless we had the explicit consent of the couple to use the embryo for research. Even in the absence of legislation, the CIHR has established guidelines that make it very clear.

Senator Pearson: I know parents are already being asked for consent.

Dr. Worton That is correct. In the Stem Cell Network, we have decided and agreed that if we go forward with the creation of embryonic cell lines, we want to do it in a very slow, deliberate, meaningful, planned way so that we do not waste too many; so that we try to optimize the procedures before we do too many; and so that we do it only in those labs that have the very best expertise in country and in collaboration with the in vitro fertilization clinics that have some of the best collections of material to work with so that we do not waste a lot. That is being planned; it has gone to the CIHR oversight committee. We do not have a response back from them yet as to whether that will be accepted or not. Dr. Bhatia's lab is one of those labs.

Mr. Persaud: On the matter of waste, if I may cite one example — and I agree with the spirit of what my colleagues are saying. The area of assisted reproductive technology is very difficult. For example, in the Korean experiment, 242 eggs were fertilized; 30 embryos were produced, and only one stem cell line resulted — 242 eggs, one stem cell line. Imagine the human cost of that. That is a matter of waste.

The other point is, alluding to what you are saying on consent, I hope you will strongly inform donors that when there is in vitro fertilization, there may be a requirement for implantation of, let us say, even three embryos. If all three are implanted successfully, two may have to be destroyed, or one — and I hope that is made very clear to prospective candidates.

Mr. Bhatia: I think that consent is a very important issue. In terms of the DNA, one could also think of the analysis of donating blood. There also is that same concept or notion that one's DNA is out there and available to whomever. Therefore, the consent issues pertain not only to this particular bill, but I think are broader. That is more of a comment.

In terms of this particular bill, for embryo donation, as Dr. Worton indicated, both gamete providers are required to provide informed consent. More importantly, the notion has been that the embryos to be used for this type of research are not meant for surrogate donation or family completion, and are strictly for either discard or, alternatively, this specific research. In terms of consent, there is probably no further detail that could be provided to anyone, including the gamete providers. I think there is some confidence and clear regard that, certainly on my part and that of my colleagues, this is a very precious gift for which we are responsible, and that we have to take that into consideration and move ahead carefully.

If I can add a comment to Mr. Persaud's comment on the experiment in Korea, it is a fact that 240 oocytes were used for the one cell generation. What I would also like you to bear in mind, though, is the frequency of taking 240 eggs and getting a full-term birth. I think you will find it is not that much different, so you have to take that into account and not just consider the derivation of a cell line. Second, the 240 oocytes were not meant for full-term births.

Senator Keon: First, I would like to apologize to the witnesses for not being here on time. I have two committees sitting at the same time, so I had to go to the other one for the first half.

Second, since I was not here to hear you all — I know where Dr. Worton stands — I would like to know if Dr. Bhatia would recommend passage of this bill without amendment?

Mr. Bhatia: From my perspective and skill set expertise, I would say that there are some things to be cautious about in this bill, specifically, the prohibition against nuclear transfer — somatic cell transfer. I am concerned about that, but more concerned about the wording used in the popular press about ``therapeutic cloning.'' One of the other potential benefits that one could envision with somatic cell nuclear transfer is the creation of human disease models. Currently, the investment in Canada in genome and protein work is aimed at trying to understand the genetic base of some diseases. It is clear, I think, that it is not a single gene, but probably in fact a multiple of genes.

Senator Keon: You would like to see the bill amended to reflect that.

Mr. Bhatia: That would limit us moving forward, absolutely.

Mr. Weiss: I commented previously on clause 5 and clause 11 and I concur with Dr. Bhatia on the concern regarding somatic cell nuclear transfer. I also have concerns about the banning of the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines. I believe that it has to be carefully considered, if not revisited, in a reasonable period of time. The final issue I had was with respect to clause 11, which has to do with the transfer of human genetic material into other species. That is a proposed controlled activity, and I believe that it was likely not the intent when the bill was originally drafted to require scientists to obtain a licence. Essentially, it would require anywhere between 500 and 1,000 labs across this country to be licensed on a monthly basis for activities that have been going on since recombinant DNA technology was generated 25 years ago. I suggest careful revisiting of these clauses within a prescribed period of time, if not an amendment to the bill.

Senator Keon: Would you be comfortable with passing the bill now and revisiting it in three years?

Mr. Weiss: I suppose, because of the importance of moving the proposed legislation forward, it would probably be better at this time than to not have legislation. The fear is that if it were to go back to the House, there would be no legislation, which would leave us again in this uncertain situation.

Mr. Persaud: In summary, I think this bill has some good points and I would recommend accepting Part 1, the banning of cloning; and Part 2, the regulation of some of the fertility clinics. I am somewhat comfortable with those, but I do not think the third part of this bill should go back to the floor. I think that in view of the divisiveness of the stem cell issue, their origin, use and so on, we would be unwise to proceed with that part of the bill at this time.

Senator Keon: I want to come back to the question of production of embryos. We are receiving conflicting information in this area. Witnesses yesterday said that there is such a shortage of eggs and sperm that if people are not paid to donate, there will be a crisis. On the other hand, some people are saying that there is such an excess of them that they should be used for experimentation. I have heard, not from witnesses here but elsewhere, on the telephone and in correspondence, that some of the clinics are now stimulating women with drugs to produce about 30 eggs. Dr. Worton, this whole question does not seem to have reached the state of maturity necessary for a decision on the use of these embryos outside the regulations in the bill. I did not agree with this bill when it was drafted. I thought that there should have been at least two bills, or maybe more. I am also very uncomfortable with having nothing go forward. Perhaps a compromise is warranted. Could you answer my questions in that context?

Dr. Worton It is true that we do not have as much information as we would like. There are embryos available in freezers across Canada from in vitro fertilization. The numbers are not great — a few hundred and not a few thousand. It is true that there are inefficiencies in the procedure such that not every embryo in the freezer will result in an embryonic stem cell line if they are set up to do that. The only data published are from Dr. Françoise Baylis and they suggest that the numbers are rather small. I should have looked them up before I came today, but I think Dr. Bhatia may be able to give them to you.

The numbers of stem cell lines that you could expect to be developed from the number of embryos that are available are relatively small. It is approximately 15 or 20. Ms. Baylis's survey did not cover all of the IVF clinics in the country and missed three or four of the biggest ones that said they have a great deal of material in their freezers. When you factor that in, her estimate is almost certainly on the low side, possibly by a factor of three or four.

The supply is somewhat limited but there are enough embryos available, we believe, for us to proceed, at least for the next two or three years.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: It is wonderful to have people of your calibre to help us out. I detect almost a coming together on the idea that what we have in this bill is better than what we have had in the past, but that it must be reviewed. Many seem to be reaching that conclusion.

In your presentation, Dr. Worton, you said that Canadian scientists have played no role in the study of human embryonic stem cells as they have been voluntarily waiting for four years for enabling legislation.

I got the impression, probably wrongly, that through CIHR and their regulations you can do some research. Is that right?

Dr. Worton Two points on that: CIHR would allow us to proceed with the creation of new stem cell lines. The oversight committee was established in October of last year and met for the first time in January 2004. The committee looked at a proposal from the Stem Cell Network to do that but we have not had a report back. I am anticipating that they will give their approval because everything we propose to do is totally within the guidelines that they have established.

There has been nothing to prevent any scientist in Canada from working with the existing stem cell lines that we can obtain from the United States, Australia or Israel. In fact, you heard Dr. Bhatia speak earlier today about some of his early experiences with some of those cell lines.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: Is it true that there has been no Canadian work on embryonic stem cells?

Dr. Worton It was incorrect because I was not aware of the extent of Dr. Bhatia's experiments. It was incorrect and I will table that here. When I wrote that, I had in mind more that we have not engaged in the creation of any embryonic stem cell lines but have only worked with existing lines, which is allowed everywhere in the world.

I do not think there is a place where that is a banned activity.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: If I might just continue for a moment, Mr. Weiss, in your paper on page 4, I think you are moving toward saying this is a good first step. You alluded, perhaps more verbally, to the fact that this is a good first step and it has to go on to the second step; that is the way society and science evolve. However, there will be the possibility of using in vitro-generated embryos for therapeutic purposes as a result of this bill. Is that correct, looking at the second paragraph?

Mr. Weiss: Yes, that is correct.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: The cloning de novo will not be permitted at this stage, but the use of —

Mr. Weiss: I was referring to all potential in vitro-generated embryos, because there is only a subgroup of in vitro- generated embryos that could be utilized now.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: Otherwise, those would be sacrificed?

Mr. Weiss: Correct.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: Dr. Worton's paper has stressed the importance of reviewing this in three to five years, and there is the same thing, ultimately, in Mr. Weiss's.

The only other thing I wanted to look at was the statistics. Not to quibble here, but the Environics poll of 2002 — that 76 per cent of Canadians support using stem cells derived from spare embryos — seems to me to agree with Mr. Persaud's figures, that 33 per cent do not want them destroyed. I know I am trying to juggle figures here, but when you say only 21 per cent say it is acceptable, there is a huge gap. I do not know if there is agreement between the two sets of figures, in that 33 per cent say that embryo destruction is unacceptable. We are sensitive, as legislators, to public opinion. I think there is support in the country for what this bill proposes. Do the four of you agree?

Mr. Persaud: May I just respond to the matter of the poll? The Leger poll is a later poll; and what it is saying is that 21 per cent of Canadians would support stem cell research. However, when told — and this is the definitive point — that embryonic stem cell creation requires the destruction of embryos, and that there are alternatives, when you add up the two, 70 per cent of Canadians would prefer non-embryonic stem cell sources. That is the Leger poll; it is a fact, it is there.

Senator Trenholme Counsell: I think you could also say that 67 per cent say it is acceptable to use embryos for research, if only 33 per cent say it is not.

The Acting Chairman: I think we can argue polls to death. Mr. Weiss will have the final comment.

Mr. Weiss: I would have to say that when the second question is asked and the response given, that percentage is not additive with the first. A similar percentage is still uncomfortable; but in all polls that I have read over the past three years, a majority of Canadians support stem cell research. There is no question about that.

Senator Roche: Embryonic?

Mr. Weiss: Yes.

Senator Roche: Where is the evidence that they are being polled for their opinion on embryonic stem cell research?

Dr. Worton: Access to information on all of the polls is on the Stem Cell Network Web site, which is listed at the end of my letter to you.

The Acting Chairman: Could we ask Dr. Worton and Mr. Persaud to send the details of these polls to the clerk so that they can be circulated?


Senator Plamondon, I invite you to ask the last questions.

Senator Plamondon: I will begin with a comment. As an independent senator and a new member of the Senate — this is only my second day on this committee — I would have liked to obtain a curriculum vitae from all of the witnesses in order to have some idea of where they come from, what their interests are, and whether some of their interests converge with those of other witnesses and the committee. This would allow me to have a better grasp of the issues before discussing substance. This suggestion could apply to all of the committees.

All of your faces are new to me. From the questions you asked, I can see that some of you are very familiar with this work. Unfortunately, I do not share that familiarity. We are already familiar with some of your positions with regard to certain committee members.

My question is the following. We learned that in the United States there are no public funds allocated to research that leads to the destruction of embryos. Such research exists only in the private sector.

Publicly subsidized Canadian research will thus focus on adult stem cells. These public subsidies will therefore encourage that type of research here, as compared to the situation in the United States.

We have heard the Minister of Health tell us that the bill must be accepted it stands. Should the bill not pass, certain threatening comments were made according to which certain United States undertakings would come and settle in Canada — probably a reference to the private sector — in order to be able to do research easily on embryos. I felt that that comment was designed to put pressure on us and force our hand to some extent.

So there are certain inherent contradictions. On the one hand, the minister states that this bill will pass as such or not at all. At the same time, the industry has indicated repeatedly that it does not accept the bill as it stands and that we must make amendments to it.

As Canada's industry does enjoy public subsidies, does this mean that the industry does not want the bill as such, but wants to continue to enjoy public funds to pursue its activities without any regulatory framework?

My second question is the following: yesterday we heard a witness whose duties revolved around the care of patients. This witness said, in English, ``kill the bill'', because if there are no subsidies for sperm and ova, funds will be non-existent. We were told that 80 per cent of sperm is purchased in the United States. Although the term ``sperm donor'' is used, sperm is not donated; it is sold.

Consequently, let us be clear. This is an industry with suppliers, retailers and purchasers. We are talking about an industry and an ethic that goes beyond simply claiming that you want to save sick people and children or have a legal framework. We must not mix up purely commercial interests with higher motives such as improving the health of individuals.

The Chairman: Senator Plamondon, I am sorry to have to tell you that you only have five minutes left.

Senator Plamondon: Those were my questions.


The Acting Chairman: This is a complex question. I will ask Dr. Worton to respond first.

Dr. Worton I am not sure that I can answer the second question, about the sperm donors, because it is not my area and I do not have enough information.

With regard to the first question, I think we have all answered that by saying that the current bill, as it exists, is okay but not perfect from a number of points of view. If it were passed, it would give us a legislative framework within which we can work, and that is good. We might seek revisions further down the road as the science develops and I think that would be acceptable.

I suspect that all four of us would be happy to forward our CVs to the committee. We are not mixing any commercial interests, at least in my case, with academic interests. I hold no interests whatsoever in any commercial enterprise related to stem cells and probably never will, because it is risky and I am not a risk taker, in that sense.

My motivation is mainly to get the research done that will open up avenues of new therapies that will benefit Canadians. I am not at all adverse to the fact that at some time, those new therapeutic approaches have to be commercialized or they will never happen. There is not enough money coming from government to take a concept and turn it into a drug. The drug companies have to take that over at some point. That is the normal way of doing business.

Mr. Weiss: I wanted to comment on the first question raised by Senator Plamondon, about the United States. It is true that there are prohibitions on the use of government funds for embryo research beyond existing lines. The issue of where other funds come from is not so much that they come from the private sector or companies, but in the United States now there is great support coming from the NGOs, such as the juvenile diabetes foundations, of which there are a significant number, as well as individual states. The State of California is currently considering a proposition to allow the use of state funds for the creation of a human embryonic stem cell centre at Stanford University. There are many initiatives using non-federal public funds and citizen funds through non-governmental organizations that support the human embryonic stem cell research in the United States. For the most part, those do not exist in Canada.

Senator Johnson: I commend all of you because this is a complex issue, which I have followed with great interest.

I am very uncomfortable with not allowing the bill to go forward. I support it, despite the fact that it is imperfect, but then legislation is rarely perfect. I believe that the health of the nation is paramount and anything we can do to improve on that in the area of scientific research to cure diseases is more important than anything else.

Therefore, I respect senators' comments about using embryos to further scientific research. I am sure this is what you are all trying to do. It requires that we use stem cell tissues from spare embryos. I do not see how your work can progress in this country without that.

Are your hands not tied if we do not proceed? Will not other countries, not just the United States, do this work in the private sector anyway? What about other countries? Why should anyone want to stop this? You have provided us with many explanations about embryos and there is a great deal of respect for the work. My sister has been working in the field for 20 years and people are begging for guidelines.

Mr. Persaud: I like the attractiveness of Canadian law — the same one for the private sector and the public sector — rather than a mishmash such as we see in the United States.

Dr. Worton I agree that having this bill deal with research no matter where it is done is much better than the situation in the United States, where there is one set of rules for the private sector and one set for, at least, federal government agencies.

I agree with what you just said. We need to move forward on this bill, but in answer to your question about what happens if the bill is not passed, we revert to the state we were in three years ago, with no law and no framework. We would then be compelled to follow the CIHR guidelines for work supported by CIHR. Anyone who undertakes research funded by other agencies would not be compelled to follow any guidelines.

Mr. Bhatia: If I may extend that a little. The other view is that if the bill does not go forward, then there will be no framework to do any kind of research. That actually causes some discomfort. The commercial enterprises will actually drive some of these motivations, and some of the scientists, from my own polls, would feel uncomfortable with not looking at adult and embryonic stem cells together and will seek to do their research in other countries.

The Acting Chairman: It has been an extremely interesting morning and we have had important points of view expressed that will help the committee a great deal. Thank you.

The committee adjourned.

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