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Stephen Woodworth

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Why Parliament Should Consider Law to Protect Late-Term Fetuses

Posted: 12/22/11 10:04 AM ET

A recent poll disclosed that 80 per cent of Canadians believe that Canadian law protects the fundamental human rights of children before birth in the later stages of gestation.

In fact, the opposite is true. Canadian law provides no human rights protection whatsoever for children before the moment of complete birth. This results from an unusual Canadian statute which defines a human being as a child who has completely proceeded in a living state from the mother's body, whether or not the child has breathed. This means that in Canada a child is legally considered to be sub-human while his or her little toe remains in the birth canal, even if he or she is breathing.

This law was first formulated prior to the 17th century, when an early version of it was recorded in Coke's Institutes of Law, a series of short studies evaluating the United States legal system. In those times, medical science and principles of human rights were not sufficiently advanced to challenge such a law.

The important question is whether this 400-year-old Canadian law is supported by 21st-century medical science and principles of human rights. Perhaps Canadians should at least examine this question. I propose that Parliament has a responsibility to lead that examination.