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Americans get a taste of Canadian biopolitics
George Dvorsky   Jul 19, 2006   Sentient Developments  

Now that George Bush has vetoed a bill rejecting legislation passed by Congress that would have expanded federal research on embryonic stem cells, Americans have been given a taste of what Canadians have had to deal with for the past four years.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair to our American friends. The situation here in Canada is actually far worse.

Surprised? Well, don’t be. Back in 2002 the Liberal government passed Bill C-6 – the so-called Assisted Human Reproduction Act. Where Bush has limited federal funding, the Liberals have banned research into human embryonic stem cells altogether. As is the situation in the United States, religious injunctions against meddling with embryos are dominating Canadian legislatures.

And this is exactly the issue at hand. It’s actually not such a big deal that embryonic stem cell research has been curtailed. There have been remarkable advancements in deriving stem cells from adults and non-human animals. The pending stem cell revolution is in no danger of being interrupted.

Rather, the real problems raised by Bill C-6 and Bush’s recent veto have to do with deplorable politicking and the incessant intrusion of religion onto daily life. When announcing the veto, Bush unabashedly surrounded himself with babies – babies born as a result of embryo adoption programs. Bush’s implied statement of embryo sanctification flies in the face of the fact that thousands upon thousands of embryos are destroyed each year, most arising from IVF efforts.

I’m sure Bush isn’t about to tread on that old issue. What used to be called “test tube babies” now accounts for over 112,000 births each year in the United States alone. Worldwide, it’s been estimated that over 3 million children have been born through IVF since its inception in 1978. Clearly Bush’s rhetoric of “crossing a moral line” is grossly insincere and laughable, especially considering the appalling deaths of innocents as a result of his war on terror. What Bush is really doing by virtue of his embryo baby kissing and stem cell vetoing is pandering to one of his most important constituencies, namely the religious right.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, the (very) silent but powerful Christian minority has completely taken advantage of Canadian complacency. Not knowing and not caring is truly our national pastime. As I write this, many Canadians are up in arms in regards to Bush’s veto, with very few realizing that our own legislation is far more restrictive. Worse, Canadians are oblivious to the fact that Christian notions of personhood are directly inhibiting medical research and potential breakthroughs.

Ultimately, as biopolitics matures as a social issue, Canadians and Americans will eventually come to their senses and acknowledge the importance of stem cell research. The benefit of regenerative medicine carries profound implications for nearly everyone. There are people alive today who could desperately use these types of interventions. It’s about time we honoured the sanctity of those lives that are actually being lived rather than levying nonsensical notions of personhood onto a clump of cells.

George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.

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