In 1979, the League for Life of Manitoba publicized fetal experiments conducted at Winnnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Babies of up to 25 weeks gestation, aborted through hysterotomy, had blood taken and their adrenals, gonads and pituitary glands removed.
213 babies were used in these experiments. Some had up to 8 ccs of blood taken through cardiac puncture, almost certainly removed while they were still alive. Such an amount would be equivalent to 20 per cent of the blood volume of the child and would have hastened (or caused) death.
Other babies had their adrenal, gonad and pituitary glands removed as part of an experiment to study human sexual development. As the glands were “excised without delay … immediately after hysterotomy,” the Leagues for Life questioned whether the babies were still alive when the procedures were carried out.
The hysterotomy method (a form of caesarean section) almost always delivers a live baby and a further question arose as to whether there was any attempt to give proper care to the babies large enough to have a chance of a survival. At least one baby, at 26 weeks obstetric age, was viable and might have had a chance of a survival.
Another was 22 weeks and would have had a slight chance. A few others were around 18 to 19 weeks fetal age (this is 12 weeks less than obstetric age) and, while in practice they would not have survived at that time. According to a report on these experiments, published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism in 1976, the research was supported by the Medical Research Council of Canada, grant MA 2997. A further grant, from the Richardson Foundation to study fetal adrenal cells, was obtained by the same department in 1977, for research on fetal adrenal cells.
The League for Life presented Manitoba’s Attorney General with a brief asking for answers to the ethical questions brought to light by the experiments. They were told that the experiments had been carried out in a proper manner. Questions as to whether informed consent from the mothers was obtained, whether efforts were made to save those babies with a chance of survival, whether these procedures were carried out on living babies, and whether proper death certificates were issued, remain unanswered today. Perhaps the time has come to raise these questions again.