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Reproductive technology report urges ethics.

OTTAWA - A $28 million report on new reproductive technologies in Canada is getting mixed reviews as Catholic church officials ponder its implications.

"I'm very happy with the direction the report seems to go in," said Msgr. James Weisgerber, general secretary for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Weisgerber said the CCCB would study the 1,300-page report of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, released Nov. 30, before making detailed comments.

However, he said the commission did not seem to "recognize the human and ethical implications of all these technologies, and (the bishops) want them addressed."

Indeed, the commission's apparent emphasis on ethics over technology also found favor with Anne Mason, project coordinator for the Vanier Institute of the Family, an interdenominational organization. "That's a very important distinction in our mind because as far as we're concerned the ethical rather than the technological considerations should be paramount," she said.

But, she said, the institute is "very supportive" of technologies that "assist families to create family."

The commission made 293 recommendations in the report, which took four years of work - twice as long as expected.

The report, "Proceed with Care," recommended a ban on surrogate motherhood, the closure of sex-selection clinics and a prohibition on the sale of human eggs, sperm, embryos, fetuses or fetal tissue.

"There is a need to prohibit those uses of technology that contravene Canadian ethical and social values," said Dr. Patricia Baird, the commission's chairwoman. Other technologies need to be regulated "to ensure that only accountable, beneficial use of acceptable technologies occurs," she said.

The commission also called for a new national commission to be set up "to ensure that new reproductive technologies are only provided in a safe, ethical and accountable way within the boundaries of acceptable practice and research."

In its submission to the commission in January 1991, the CCCB's permanent council said that most of the new technologies were invasive, painful and experimental and that surrogate motherhood was "particularly exploitive."

At the heart of the bishops' brief was "an urgent plea for development of an overall philosophy respectful of all facets of human life."

The only dissenting voice among the commissioners was that of Dr. Suzanne Scorsone, director of the Catholic Family Life for the Toronto archdiocese. She wrote a 90-page explanation of six issues she disagreed with in the report. However, she said, "Where we differ, we do so not on our ethical principles, but on the conditions and relative priority of the application of them to specific situations and on the probable results."

Dr. Pierre Miron, head of a privately funded fertility clinic in Montreal, called the report outdated because it considers reproductive technologies "that were new 10 years ago and that have become obsolete." He told reporters that as a result, the commission's recommendations "will be of little consequence."

To the contrary, Federal Health Minister Diane Marleau said the 293 recommendations in the report "have important social, legal, ethical and health implications for all Canadians, particularly women." The government will move quickly on health and safety issues identified in the report, she said, and will consult with provincial governments "since many of the recommendations involve matters of provincial/territorial jurisdiction."

The report also sheds light on the state of reproductive technologies in the United States. It said U.S. commercial brokers pay up to $16,000 to women to conceive, bear and give up a child for infertile couples. It also noted a proliferation of institutions selling sperm for profit and franchised clinics that use ultrasound to provide prenatal diagnosis of the sex of a baby, making it possible for couples to abort a fetus of the undesired sex. The commission report described artificial insemination as an annual $164 million industry, with such limited regulation that no one knows how many sperm banks exist.
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Title Annotation:Canada; Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies
Author:Babych, Art
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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