The recent decision of a British Columbia Court to uphold the right of the province to ‘apprehend’ a child whilst still in his/her mother’s womb has not helped to sill the controversy over ‘Baby R’ that had began last May.
The mother (who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse along with an inability to care for her children) was within hours of giving birth. Problems arose during labour and her doctors determined that there was a 90 per cent chance that the baby would die if it were not delivered by caesarian section. When the mother refused surgery the hospital called on the Social Services Ministry, which took custody of the child. The mother, in fact, did change her mind and consented to surgery. A healthy baby was born.
The media, women’s groups and abortionists all regard this as a case where the interests of the mother are pitted against those of her child and, predictably, for them the mother’s rights are paramount and the child’s insignificant. Equally, it is evident, they fear that by preserving a foetus the courts are weakening the arguments for abortion.
A Globe and Mail editorial “Seizing the Unborn” (September 7) stated: “The B.C. act permits the apprehension of a child in need of protection and that was the authority to seize Baby R. But under Canadian common law, a child is not a child until it is born.” Actually, under the present law an unborn child is not regarded as a person (though a Corporation may be), but that is a different matter.
On the other side of the argument is Ira Kluge, a specialist in medical ethics at the University of Victoria. Writing in the January issue of the B.C. Medical Journal, Professor Kluge advocated the need for laws to protect the rights of the unborn when they conflict with the interests of the mother. “From an ethical perspective, therefore, the mother’s insistence on her right to autonomy is indefensible. It constitutes a ‘fist’ in ‘the face’ of the child, an unjustified abrogation of the rights of the new person.” Dr. Kluge believes in the old maxim: “Your right to swing your fist stops where my face begins.