N.B. boy denied right to sue for in utero injury

Children cannot sue their mothers for injuries sustained while in the womb, according to a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The 7-2 decision on July 10, in which six-year-old Ryan Dobson sued his mother for prenatal negligence, revealed something pro-life advocates already know: the top court in Canada is not prepared to grant legal rights to unborn children.

Ryan was born 13 weeks premature due to his mother Cynthia Dobson’s reckless driving near Moncton, N.B., during a snow storm in 1993. He was born by caesarean section a few hours after the collision and his injuries allegedly resulted in his being born with cerebral palsy. He has also grown up walking with a limp and is unable to speak.

While Cynthia Dobson lay in a coma for 17 days, her parents decided to sue her for prenatal negligence on behalf of Ryan, in order to obtain access to insurance coverage. The funds were to be used to care for Ryan, and were necessary because the accident had left his mother unable to work due to severe head injuries and partial paralysis. The case took six years to make it to the Supreme Court.

Before the final decision, her insurance company agreed to pay a settlement. If the case had been successful, the family would have been awarded much more.

The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League intervened during the trial, raising concerns about the ramifications of a ruling in favour of the Dobsons. They argued that in awarding Ryan Dobson funds for an injury that took place within the womb, the courts would essentially be confirming that women are in fact liable for any harm that might occur to the fetus before birth.

Executive director Marilyn Wilson told the Globe and Mail that the success of a case such as this could severely infringe on women’s freedom.

“Women would be walking around feeling shackled with all this excessive burden of care placed on them,” she claimed.

Others would argue that in continuing with a pregnancy, women are accepting the duty of care to protect their unborn child, which they obviously acknowledge as being alive, from unnecessary harm while it develops within the womb.

Jim Hughes, Campaign Life Coalition national president, said the ruling completely undermines this basic fact. He said the court neglected to acknowledge that those persons who are undoubtedly alive ought to be granted legal rights by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“This decision flies in the face of modern medical knowledge that confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that the child in utero is a distinct human being,” he said.

The family is unsettled about the court’s decision. Cynthia Dobson said she is angry with the pro-abortion movement for using her son’s suffering to advance their own cause. She details this in a letter published in several newspapers.