It appears that the recent court decision in Belleville, Ontario, to give protection to an unborn baby, was not an isolated incident. In a move widely interpreted as affirming foetal rights, the British Columbia Ministry of Social Services has made a 36-week-old foetus a ward of the government.
The mother, a prostitute and heroin addict, was reported as saying that she did not intend to consent to medical treatment for her child after it was born.
It was no surprise than, that doctors at Vancouver Grace Hospital, in consultation with local social workers, decided that the child should be protected. Acting under the auspices of the province’s Family and Child Services Act, the Ministry successfully won their application to have the child made a government ward.
This is certainly a first for B.C. University of Victoria medical ethicist, Erik Kluge, says that although the ministry is confronted with similar cases at least once a year, this is the first time that they have taken any positive action. Kluge attributes their decision to act in this instance to one of his articles recently published in the B.C. Medical Journal. In it, he pointed out that “somewhere between 18 and 26 weeks the foetus has developed the basic neurological structure and must be considered a person.” He is calling for alterations to the Criminal Code, to allow doctors to perform caesarean sections on mothers who are abusing their babies.
It may be interesting to note that Dr. Kluge is co-author of a recent book entitled, Withholding Treatment from Defective Newborn Children, which advocates the legalization of direct killing of handicapped babies. It appears that “basic neurological structure” – that is, the humanity of the child, according to Kluge – only counts if the child is perfect.
Needless to say, abortion advocates are unhappy with the B.C. decision. They see the government’s actions as “an affront to the rights of women.” Patty Moore, education co-ordinator for the Vancouver Status of Women, reportedly said “The government’s move represents one more way of seeing a woman only as a public womb rather than a person with full rights.” Law student Susan Adams, president of the B.C. National Association for Women and the Law, takes it one step further; “The foetus was termed a child. The question is how far will it go. It’s a slippery slope.”
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, represented by Nancy Morrison, fighting to have a legal voice at an upcoming custody hearing. Her group is concerned about Kluge’s suggestion for legislative changes. Said spokesman Katie Young, “If such legislation were introduced, it may well result in a severe limitation on the rights of pregnant women to determine when they would be operated upon, whether they could smoke…take alcohol…or what they’re to eat during their pregnancy…”
Nonetheless, the B.C. government’s action as set a powerful precedent, and the decision of Judge Kirkland of Belleville, is no longer an isolated incident. It would appear that the unborn child is on the way to becoming accepted in the eyes of the law as a “person.”