The SOGC recommends that Parliament reject Bill C-484



    OTTAWA, Sept. 2 /CNW Telbec/ - The Society of Obstetricians and
Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) is profoundly troubled by private member's
Bill C-484, entitled the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, and opposes its passage
into law.
    This Bill can only be interpreted as giving the foetus in utero legal
status at conception. It would fundamentally change current Canadian law which
makes it clear that a woman and her foetus in utero are treated legally as one
person, not two - as one patient for a doctor, nurse, or midwife. To do
otherwise would dramatically complicate the delivery of care to pregnant women
by introducing the necessity of third party intervention in medical
decision-making.
    "The impact of this private member's Bill on the practice of medicine in
Canada would be substantial" said the President of the SOGC, Dr. Scott
Farrell. "It creates a new situation where doctors, nurses, and midwives could
be charged as criminals simply for providing necessary care to pregnant women
and their foetus in utero."
    As healthcare professionals, we are best placed to understand the
far-reaching medical implications of this Bill. Bill C-484 would prevent
doctors and nurses treating pregnant women from meeting their professional
responsibilities to their pregnant patients.
    The SOGC also believes that Bill C-484 does nothing to address violence
against women. First, there are no concurrent sentences for multiple murders
in Canada. Second, it would allow an abusive spouse or partner to rely on the
defence of provocation by the pregnant woman who is assaulted, injured or
killed in a "crime of passion", where the woman miscarries as a result. Third,
this Bill would require the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the
defendant "knew or ought to have known" that the woman was pregnant. In such
acts of violence, no charge would arise under this Bill, where a pregnant
woman is not yet showing her pregnancy.
    Dr. André Lalonde, Executive Vice-President of the SOGC stated that: "The
SOGC firmly opposes any lessening of protection against domestic and other
violence. The Government should be investing in programs to prevent and
protect pregnant women from aggressive behaviour and abuse."
    For these reasons, the SOGC recommends that Parliament reject Bill C-484
as a threat to the health and well-being of pregnant women and their foetus',
to women's reproductive and sexual rights, and to the practice of obstetrics
and gynaecology.

    Note: A copy of the SOGC's complete position statement has been included
    as an attachment and can also be obtained by visiting the SOGC website at
    www.sogc.org. Please note that the French version of this statement will
    be available on 3 September 2008.


    
    23 June 2008

    SOGC Position Statement : Bill C-484, Unborn Victims of Crime Act

    The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) was
founded in 1944 with the mission "to promote excellence in the practice of
Obstetrics and Gynaecology and to advance the health of women through
leadership, advocacy, collaboration, outreach, and education." The SOGC is a
leading authority on reproductive health care and produces national clinical
guidelines for both public and medical education on important women's health
issues. The Society's more than 3,000 professional members include
gynaecologists, obstetricians, family physicians, nurses, midwives, and allied
health professionals across Canada.
    The SOGC is profoundly troubled by private member's Bill C-484, entitled
the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, and opposes its passage into law. This Bill
proposes to amend the Criminal Code to allow for a foetus to have legal
standing, while in utero, so that a charge can be brought after its
miscarriage against a person who deliberately or recklessly assaults a
pregnant woman carrying that foetus while committing a crime. The attacker
must either know, or ought to have known, that the woman s/he is attacking is
pregnant and must attack her meaning "to cause the child's death" or knowing
that the injury to the woman "is likely to cause the child's death".
    This Bill can only be interpreted as giving the foetus in utero legal
status at conception. That would fundamentally change current Canadian law,
but would do so by the back door, seeking to circumvent the direct decision
taken by Parliament and the Courts to define legal status and rights as
accruing at birth. Supporters of this Bill argue that the changes in Bill
C-484 are narrow and specific. That is not the case. The Bill is proposed with
a purpose - to change current law to afford new legal rights to the foetus. It
stipulates that those legal rights accrue at the moment of conception. Indeed,
the use of the term "child" throughout the Bill confirms the intent of the
drafter that full legal status will now be created in the foetus "at any stage
of development before birth".
    This Bill, then, does more than create new legal rights in the foetus at
conception. It begins the process of establishing (criminal) sanctions for
doctors, nurses or others, including the pregnant woman herself, whose actions
might affect those "new rights". It sets out specific changes to the Criminal
Code for interfering with those new legal rights where a foetus in utero
miscarries when a pregnant woman is attacked in the situation set out in the
Bill. The impact of this private member's Bill on the practice of medicine in
Canada would be substantial. It creates a new situation where doctors, nurses,
and midwives could be charged as criminals simply for providing necessary care
to pregnant women and their foetus in utero.
    Bill C-484 would prevent doctors and nurses treating pregnant women from
meeting their professional responsibilities to their pregnant patients, at
least, but not exclusively, in this specific case. Current law makes it clear
that a woman and her foetus in utero are treated legally as one person, not
two - as one patient for a doctor, nurse, or midwife. To do otherwise would
create very difficult medical and personal situations.
    Bill C-484 challenges and changes this fundamental principle of women's
autonomy. It would seriously and negatively affect the ability of a doctor, a
nurse, or a midwife to care for a pregnant woman, who under this Bill would
become a mere carrier for another person with full legal rights. Her treatment
would require care-givers and institutions to seek protection for the foetus'
rights through the intervention of a third party separate from, and other
than, the pregnant woman herself. Any decision about her treatment would have
to take into account the new legal rights of the foetus in her womb. Her own
interests, needs, or choices would be considered in treatment decisions, but
these would be subject to the rights of the foetus she is carrying, now newly
endowed with legal standing and rights. The foetus' unexpressed wishes would
be interpreted by proxy by courts and legislators.
    This Bill, then, would have a chilling effect on the practice of
Obstetrics and Gynaecology, including, ironically, on new and high risk
surgeries performed on a sick or medically affected foetus in utero - even
though such high risk surgery, when successful, allows the foetus a chance to
survive at birth and develop into a healthy child. As an example, in utero
laser surgery is currently used to treat twin to twin transfusion syndrome. In
this situation, there would be three individuals with independent rights: the
mother and each of the foetuses.
    While this Bill deals only with the new criminal sanctions with respect to
the specific situation of a foetus in utero, its potential legal impact is far
broader. In creating full legal status for the foetus in utero at conception,
the Bill opens the door for the further restriction of women's reproductive
and sexual rights and decision-making. Women's equality is an important
Canadian value and that equality is enshrined in Canada's Constitution in the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The erosion of any Charter rights should not
be undertaken lightly.
    This bill would allow an abusive spouse or partner (male or female) to
rely on the defence of provocation by the pregnant woman who is assaulted,
injured, or killed in "a crime of passion", where the pregnant woman
miscarries as a result. The SOGC firmly opposes any lessening of protection
against domestic violence now afforded all women, especially vulnerable
pregnant women. Further, this Bill would require the Crown to prove beyond a
reasonable doubt that the defendant "knew or ought to have known" that the
woman was pregnant. In such acts of violence, no charge would arise under this
Bill, where a pregnant woman is not yet showing her pregnancy.
    The SOGC, in its dual roles of official body representing the interests of
healthcare professionals who care for pregnant women and the principal
organization with a mandate to advance the health of women, opposes the
passage of Bill C-484.
    These are difficult issues, which have divided the country before.
Previous governments have sought to resolve those different views by
legislation, but they did so openly, generating extensive debate. Parliament,
of course, has the right to change law as it decides. But if there is to be
such a fundamental change, let it occur as a result of a formal government
policy initiative, with full public disclosure, rather than through the use of
a private member's Bill.

    Recommendations

    The SOGC respectfully submits that Bill C-484, if passed by Parliament,
will have a significant detrimental effect on the health and well-being of
pregnant Canadian women and their foetus'. It will dramatically complicate the
delivery of care to pregnant women by introducing the necessity of third party
intervention in medical decision-making. As the healthcare professionals who
deliver that care and are best placed to understand the far-reaching medical
implications of this Bill, the SOGC recommends:

         1. That Parliament reject this Bill as a threat to:
               a. the health and well-being of pregnant women and their
                  foetus'
               b. women's reproductive and sexual rights
               c. the practice of obstetrics and gynaecology

         2. That Parliament recognize that Bill C-484 does nothing to address
            violence against women and that it should renew efforts to
            protect pregnant women from domestic and other violence that
            injures or kills them and results in the miscarriage of their
            foetus in utero

         3. That existing Canadian law granting legal status to the foetus at
            birth be maintained.
    




For further information:

For further information: Mike Haymes, Media Relations Officer, (613)
730-4192, ext. 325; Natalie Wright, Director of Communications and Public
Education, (613) 730-4192, ext. 366

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Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

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