The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) sprang a surprise at its annual convention.  The ethics committee recommended that a fetus be considered a baby after all, sometime around its 20th week of life.  Feminists were enraged.  Women will continue to be slaves to their wombs, said one.

Abortion hearings

In November, 1990, at the Senate abortion hearings on Bill C-43, the CMA delegation stoutly defended a woman’s alleged right to kill her unborn baby at will.

In March, 1991, the nine learned justices of the Canadian Supreme Curt solemnly ruled that as far as they and Canada’s laws are concerned, there is no baby or human being before the “product of conception” is fully born and alive.

In the April issue of Family Practice, Dr. David Popkin, head of Canada’s obstetricians and gynaecologists, rejoiced that this ruling had removed any dilemmas a doctor may have had in complying with a woman’s wish to set her interests above that of the fetus.


And now, at the 1991 annual convention in Toronto, the CMA’s own Ethics Committee suddenly raised doubts, admitting, by implication, that pro-lifers – usually described by the media and a number of CMA members as fanatical and semi-fascist – may have a point after all.

Yet, as was to be expected, the report was not accepted.

Citing dubious science, both pro-life and pro-abortion delegates refused to adopt the position paper which ascribed human personhood to the fetus at 20 weeks gestation.

By a large margin both abortion foes and defenders voted to refer the policy paper for further study, although committee chairman, Dr. Noel Doig and project co-coordinator, Dr. Elke-Henner Kluge, had urged acceptance to fill the “legal and ethical void” surrounding the fetus.

Following the decision, Dr. Doig told a news conference that the ethics committee chose a middle course based on science.  He said new knowledge and understanding in the future might well change the time at which a fetus can be considered a person.

Earlier in the day, however, Dr. Paul Ranalli, past president of the 800-member Canadian Physicians for Life, accused the committee of “intellectual dishonesty” for publishing a study that had less to do with justifying the CMA’s three year-old official support of abortion on demand.

“The role of doctors, in contributing to society’s discussion about the status of the human fetus, should be to define the origin and detail the development of human life,” Dr. Ranalli asserted.

He blasted the authors of the study for employing pseudo-scientific definitions of personhood with the intention of excluding “certain members of the human family from fundamental rights, such as the right to life.”

Dr. Ranalli, a neurosurgeon based at Toronto’s York Finch Hospital, took particular issue with the assertion Dr. Doig made in asserting that a “quantum leap” I fetal development occurred at 20 weeks gestation.  All they are doing, he said, is dithering around while all they have to do is to pay attention to science itself.

While the doctors of Canada are not yet ready to face the issue of human life in the womb honestly and openly, the admission that “the present situation is unsatisfactory because the fetus has no legal status whatsoever” is itself a quantum leap from the 20 year old argument that a fetus is just a blob of tissue.