Motion No. 312He said: Mr. Speaker, an oriental proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names. It is in the hope of reaching such wisdom that I propose a study of Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices, but does it make medical sense in the 21st century?
That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;
that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;
that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);
that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and
that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,
(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).
Our knowledge has come a long way in 400 years. We now know when a child's organs, from heart to liver, and fingers are fully formed. We can detect when a child's brain functions. Parents watch in real time as their child reacts to stimuli and sucks his or her thumb. None of this was possible 400 years ago when the law struggled to describe who was human.
Why is any law defining a human being so important? Why devote time and attention to this question? Why does it matter that such laws are crafted with great care and with utmost honesty?
It is sad to even ask this question. It is sad that it is not obvious why our law defining a human being must absolutely be an honest law based on cogent evidence and sound principle.
The reason it is so important is that powerful people can strip vulnerable people of all rights by decreeing that they are not human beings. The only way to protect the inalienable rights of all is to protect the inalienable rights of each. As the wise and courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
If basic rights can be denied to even one vulnerable person, they can be denied to anyone. Here is the way the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it:
...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...
That is why we should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings. No policy justifies it. No ideology justifies it.
Here is what our 400-year-old definition of a human being says:
A child becomes a human being...when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother....
How many Canadians believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being? Very few; most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.
In the 1850s, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the U.S. Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not persons under U.S. law. If members had been in Congress then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?
In the early 20th century, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not persons under all Canadian laws. If members had been in Parliament then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?
Now in the 21st century, we discover that we have a 400-year-old law that decrees some children are not human beings. Why not put up our hands and say that is wrong? We should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings.
If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is: Who is next? This question was recently answered for us. Professors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva told us who they think should be next in an article published in the respected Journal of Medical Ethics online. These are serious academics affiliated with respected universities.
If we accept their premise that it is acceptable to decree that some human beings are not human persons, their logic follows, inevitably. They point out there is no difference between a child before birth and a newborn. Since we have already decreed that a child before birth is not a human person and a newborn is no different, then, they say, we can and should decree that a newborn infant is also not a person. Here are their very own words:
This might sound like a spoof, but it is not. It is a serious conclusion from serious academics. It is completely logical if it is acceptable to decree, without regard to biological reality or principles of human rights, that some human beings are not human beings.
The Giubilini-Minerva article shows why it is so important that Parliament reject any law that says some human beings are not human beings.
This is not merely an academic question. In Canada every year, the deaths of 40 to 50 infants who are born alive and later die are classified as “termination of pregnancy”.
The great author, Émile Zola, was once charged with treason for defending the fundamental human rights of a French soldier. What he said expresses my concerns about subsection 223(1). He said, “I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear upon the justice of our country.”
Motion No. 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question. In fact, it directs the committee to make no decision and no recommendation but merely to report options.
Now, those who believe that the moment of complete birth does somehow transform a child from a non-human into a human being should have enough confidence in their own belief to expose it to an examination of the evidence. What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?
Zola's words apply again, and I paraphrase them. The reason they oppose a mirror study is “they dread your good sense, they dare not run the risk of letting us tell all and of letting you judge the whole matter”. Again using Zola's words, I have had to “fight step by step against an extraordinarily obstinate desire for darkness. A battle is necessary to obtain every atom of truth.” As Zola said I say, “It is on your behalf alone that I have fought, that this proof might be put before you in its entirety, so that you might give your opinion on your consciences without remorse.”
When we consider a child before birth, do we see a new human life, with a beating heart and 10 human fingers? Or do we see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a parasite? Will we at least consider the evidence?
If the evidence tells us that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, will we close our eyes to the truth simply to justify abortion? Do we need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? We do not. Even if a child is found to be a human being, it is arguable that the mother's rights will outweigh her child's rights.
When the rights of two people conflict, it is never, ever acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being.
Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, in the 1988 Morgentaler case throwing out Canada's abortion law, said the following:
The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes “compelling” should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.
Those are her words. Clearly, this eminent jurist with impeccable feminist credentials believed that it was wrong to refuse all recognition whatsoever to children before birth. Clearly, she felt it is Parliament's duty to remedy that, a view shared by other courts subsequently.
In fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our 400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the rights of children at least during the third trimester of their development.
This consensus is greater than on any other issue today. Canadians across our great country are beginning to know from their own experience and to care about the truth that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth. In other words, Canadians know that subsection 223(1) is dishonest.
Do we want a Canada where any person or group can arrange a dishonest law to decree that some human beings are not human beings as subsection 223(1) does? That is not the Canada Canadians want. If members search their hearts, that is not the Canada they want either.
If we care about the truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth. Will we be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? We can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with us.
Justice Wilson suggested that Parliament inform itself from the relevant disciplines. Motion No. 312 asks Parliament to do exactly that.
Once the committee delivers its report, Parliament can act on it or take no action. Whatever it chooses, Canadians will at least have the benefit of being informed by 21st century information from all the relevant disciplines as recommended so many years ago by Justice Bertha Wilson. It is Parliament's duty to do that much at least.
A great Canadian once said:
Those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to walk the walk....Heaven forbid that we should fail to do that of which we are capable when the path of duty is clear....Canada is not that kind of nation.
Members should not concern themselves with fearful imaginings but look solely at the dishonesty of subsection 223(1). Members should cast their vote to expose that to the light of scientific evidence. Canadians will thank them for it.
Please, let us bring Canadians together on this—
Friday, April 27, 2012
Stephen Woodworth's Speech on Motion M-312