Thursday, 24 May 2018

Colby Cosh: The Liberal who wants Liberals to reverse an illiberal Liberal mistake The odious Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which criminalized paying sperm and egg donors, has served mostly to enrich those not subject to it A private member's bill to be tabled May 29 will seek to legalize compensation for sperm and egg donors and pregnancy surrogates in Canada.Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News On May 29, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather will table his long-discussed private member’s bill legalizing compensation for sperm and egg donors and pregnancy surrogates. Housefather has been an exemplary spokesman for Canadian couples who want this sort of help with reproduction, but have found that the 2004 criminalization of payments for sperm, eggs, and womb rental have all but eradicated the availability of these services in this country. Before the law passed, there were sperm banks across Canada; afterward, the country became almost totally dependent on anonymous U.S. donors, and more or less the same situation prevails when it comes to surrogacy. In other words, a law that created a victimless crime was immediately disregarded and served mostly to enrich those not subject to it. I hope this devastating, astonishing surprise will not spoil anyone’s day. Housefather’s work on this file has been exemplary small-l liberalism, and since I am praising a politician I must immediately cleanse my palate by being quick to add that the odious Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2004), a law that Housefather has correctly described as “paternalistic, misguided, and unnecessary,” was passed by a Liberal government. In those long-forgotten days, the Liberals were led by a quite serious student of Roman Catholic moral theology, a Mr. Paul Martin Jr., and had a sizable pro-life component within their caucus. Housefather's work on this file has been exemplary small-l liberalism Fertility specialists predicted what would happen, more or less exactly: assisted fertility in Canada would go to the dogs, and consumers would cross the border and take their chances in the States. Opposition parties notably failed to raise hell. Bioethicists, who can always be chosen by a government to get the answer it is looking for, had provided a “human dignity” narrative about assisted reproduction that lowered the resistance of religious Conservatives and anti-capitalist New Democrats alike. Only a few people — libertarian newspaper cranks most of ’em — observed that the concept of “human dignity” was finding some curious applications in this instance. Nobody had any problem believing that a Liberal government was positively obligated to forbid the appearance of trade in gametes in a country where it is legal to abort fetuses (and to get paid to do it), and where the slightest suggestion of limiting abortion access would instantly transform the Liberal party into an army of samurai vengeance. Nobody had any problem with the idea that a woman’s “dignity” might require the state to hold the threat of imprisonment over her if she agreed to carry a child for a desperate couple — perhaps friends of hers, perhaps relatives — in exchange for the cost of a university education. (Garden-variety prostitution, of course, was technically legal in Canada throughout these years.) In vitro fertilization is no longer considered unusual or futuristic. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia News And of course nobody who agreed with the hazy dignity principle behind the law opposed it on the grounds that it just plain wouldn’t work. Does anyone in Canada ever oppose any law on the basis of foreseeable ineffectiveness alone? Perhaps it is the lesbians who have rescued us. As Housefather has observed, the suppression of cash compensation for gamete donations and surrogacy has naturally had disproportionate effects on same-sex couples. Even in the years since the AHRA was introduced, the weight society assigns to that concern has multiplied by approximately one zillion. But, then, one also notices that in-vitro fertilization is no longer described in newspapers as the creation of “test-tube babies.” The AHRA had its roots in the Baird Commission on New Reproductive Technologies (1989), which had outlined the desirable shape of a legal regime for fertility assistance but not been acted on by lawmakers. Nineteen eighty-nine is now a good long time ago, as anyone who graduated high school that year will be happy to tell you while weeping. Procedures like IVF, then still existing in a legal vacuum, were still being stigmatized somewhat as sinister and futuristic — forms of technology that it was perfectly appropriate to include in a list with (to mention another concern of the commission) “creation of animal-human hybrids.” Liberal MP Anthony Housefather is seen on Jan. 7, 2015, at his home in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/CP In today’s moral environment, in vitro fertilization appears in the newspaper as a policy topic mostly when someone is arguing that their provincial health insurance plan ought to pay for it. Assisted reproduction for infertile couples, or for couples otherwise medically unable to complete a traditional pregnancy à deux, has shifted from being a harbinger of dystopia to being the next thing to a human right. Hard though it may be to believe now, human heart transplants, originally considered an object of concern by some bioethicists, underwent exactly the same sort of shift in the 20 years or so after the first one was performed (1967). And, again, changing social attitudes toward abortion seem obviously relevant here. One hopes that the Party of Reproductive Choice will see the logic of reversing its own Law For Demolishing Reproductive Choice when Housefather’s bill comes before the House it controls.