Motion 312: A Look at Canada’s 400 Year Old Law

By: Stephen Woodworth

Seventy-nine per cent of Canadians believe that Canadian law protects the fundamental human rights of children before birth in the third trimester. In fact, the opposite is true! You’ll be surprised when you see what Canada’s law actually says.

Most Canadians support universal human rights not subject to cancellation by Parliamentary decree. Persecuted people, like the Tamils and others, know this very well. Canadians can have a dialogue with truth, justice and compassion about the human rights of children before birth. Canadian law denies any human rights whatsoever to a child before the moment of complete birth. Subsection 223 (1) of our Criminal Code says:

“A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother…”

Many find it odd to read a definition of a human being in black and white print. This law bears no relationship to the medical evidence about when a child actually does become a human being. Instead our law proposes a “magical” moment of transformation when the last toe pops out of the birth canal. Even more amazing is that this definition of human being was formulated earlier then the seventeenth century. At that time, medical science was very primitive compared to what is now known about the development of a child before birth. This law denies the fundamental human rights to children before birth. Is this a just law? One informed by honest modern evidence? Is it compassionate?

There is no doubt that the rights of mothers are totally engaged by pregnancy and childbirth. But can any one person’s rights be validly secured by denying the rights of another? Rights sometimes conflict, and modern principles exist to justly mediate between them. Canadians can engage in dialogue about the 21st century medical evidence and modern legal principles available to review our seventeenth century definition of human being.

Parliament has a duty to ensure laws with human rights implications, like our definition of a human being, are informed by modern accurate evidence, not 400 year old medical and principles. That should be Parliament’s priority. Motion 312 proposes no legislation, only a study. The grounds advanced for opposing it are that the informed discussion about human rights it proposes might cause Canadians to question our abortion rules. Canadians are sufficiently astute to know that discouraging people from questioning laws is the wrong reason to prevent an informed discussion. Does it make medical sense in the twenty-first to say that a child is not a human being until the moment of complete birth? Let’s at least examine the evidence! If you agree with respectful dialogue about this, please contact as many MPs as possible immediately.

The vote will be held June 13, 2012.

Stephen Woodworth
Member of Parliament
Kitchener Centre

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