Richmond, B.C. – On July 26, Ken MacQueen, reporting from British Columbia for the Toronto Star, struck a note of panic.

He informed his readers that “hospital boards are the front-line of the pro-life movement” in Vernon, B.C., in Dauphin, Manitoba and “in dozens of other communities across Canada.”

States Mr. MacQueen: “the superb political machine of the pro-life activists kicks into gear with phone calls, letters and visits.

“The evils of abortion are preached from the pulpit.  “Membership forms for the local hospital society are distributed along with a slate of appropriate candidates.

“Suddenly, another hospital joins the list of those refusing to perform abortions.”

One wishes it were as easy as that.  In most hospitals, doctors retaliate by immediately threatening to withhold their services.  After that, only the most committed pro-lifers are still willing to see the matter through.

In Dauphin, Manitoba, the doctors threatened to quit; a new referendum was organized for Thursday, August 15.  More than 10 per cent of the town’s 9,000 inhabitants met in the hockey arena, and voted abortion out with a 51 per cent majority.  The hospital’s chief of staff Dr. Garnett Warren, having lost the battle for abortions, announced he will resign.

In Vernon, B.C., the doctors have adopted the view that if a democratically elected board won’t permit abortions, then democracy should be replaced by authoritarianism.  They are calling for the board to be replaced by an appointed public trustee who will do as he (or she) is told.

In August, 125 pro-lifers protested this medical blackmail.

Abortion and science

On July 29, the Toronto Star published an article by Queen’s University professor in anatomy, R. David Andrew.  Dr. Andrew claims that neurosurgeons are the people to consult on the abortion debate.  They have an idea when life beings.

Conscious control

His theory is that human life only beings with the development of that “part of the brain responsible for the awareness and conscious control of our movements,” a part that does not develop until the four months prior to birth.  Hence, there is no problem with abortions because 90 per cent of them are committed in the first three months of gestational life when the neo-cortex does not even exist: (author’s emphasis).

Dr. Andrew has a low opinion of pro-lifers whom he calls “the anti-choice lobby.”  “Most people,” he states “are uncomfortable with the notion of a human being instantly created at conception.  It is a simplistic idea at best, which perhaps explains why it is warmly embraced by the anti-choice lobby.”

Like most of us, he goes on to say, ‘These people’ have little idea of when human life being or ends…So they take the intellectually lazy way out: the fertilized egg is the human being.”

Dr. Jerome Lejeune

‘These people’ ad Dr. Andrew calls them, include world renowned geneticists such as Dr. Jerome Lejeune of Paris and (the late) Sir William Liley of New Zealand.  They have pointed out that life – yes, human life, just like all animal life – begins at conception.  That’s when the genetic blueprint of that life is formed, never to be altered.

‘These people’ also include the most eminent church fathers and theologians who have pointed out in the past that even if we cannot pinpoint the exact scientific moment when human life beings during the nine months of pregnancy, that very uncertainty alone prohibits us from killing it at any stage, not knowing whether it is ‘alive’ or not, human or not.

Consequently, the only way to protect human dignity is to protect life from the beginning!

The same applies to the human soul.  Since we do not know at what exact moment God infuses the soul, we may never commit an abortion.  In Canada, this was set forth in detail by the Catholic Bishops’ delegation appearing before the Commons Senate abortion Committee in early 1968.

But, as Dr. Andrew notes in his opening sentence, “medical scientists don’t talk much about the human soul, life after death or the morality of abortion.  That’s because such concepts cannot be measured and so remain outside the realm of scientific experimentation.”

While we wait for the neurosurgeons to resolve our problems, the rest of us better continue to act on the basis of knowledge other than that of “scientific experimentation.”

If we don’t, inhumanity will engulf all of us.

Perhaps Dr. Andrew will learn someday that “scientific experimentation” has a very limited role in resolving ethical questions, though a major one in creating them.”

Dilemma Resolved

The April 1991 issue of Family Practice quotes Saskatoon’s Dr. David Popkin, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada as saying that the March 1991 Supreme Court decision on the Lemay v. Sullivan (mid-wives) case has resolved the doctor’s dilemma.

The Court defined the fetus as a person only after it has been fully born, alive.

This ruling, Dr. Popkin says, means that it is no longer necessary for doctors (or courts) to “remove the rights of the mother to preserve the fetus” as in cases where mothers were forced to undergo caesarian section against their wishes in order to preserve a “fetus in distress.”

Dr. Popkin seems quite sure of himself.  He favoured abortion on demand when he appeared before the Senate Committee hearings on Bill C-43 during the winter of 1990-91.  Clearly, in his case the wish is the father of the thought.

Some doctors, however, including those on the ethics committee of the CMA, are beginning to have second thoughts about the wisdom of the midwives judgment.

CCCB Brief

In its July/August 1991 issue, The Orator, a bi-monthly magazine published in Ottawa drew attention to two important documents.

One is Human Dignity and Genetic Heritage by Bertha Maria Knoppers, produced for the Law Reform Commission.  The noble title disguises a new attempt to make eugenics, the science of manipulating human procreation, acceptable to the public.

Reproductive technology

The second article, “Betrayal,” by Monica Tanner focuses on the inferior quality of the brief to the cross-Canada Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in January 1991.

Once again the CCCB as hastened to assure the government in power that is an age of “religious pluralism,” it is not about to present a position which is “exclusively Roman Catholic.”

With The Orator one wonders why such unwanted apologies appear at all.  They subsequently affect the quality of the brief adversely.

This apologetic tone does not appear in the flood of statements on socio-economic controversies (which are relatively less important and also much less amenable to specifically Catholic insights).