Reviewing Canada's Legislative Definition of "Human Being" (Motion M-312)
Update October 2, 2012: EFC President Bruce J. Clemenger sent a letter of thanks last week to EFC affiliate leaders who joined him and many other Canadians in endorsing a Declaration of Support for Parliamentary Study of Canada’s Legal Definition of “Human Being” (in support of Motion 312).
On February 6, 2012, Member of Parliament Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener –Centre, CPC) filed a Motion (M-312) requesting that Parliament form a Special Committee to study Canada’s Criminal Code definition of the term "human being." The proposed Committee would hear expert evidence and then report back to Parliament with options to deal with the law.
Canada’s legislative definition of "human being" is found in subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code. The subsection sets out that “a child becomes a human being…when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not it has breathed, it has independent circulation; or the navel string is severed.”
The current definition has led to illogical consequences in both fact and in law. Using the language of subsection 223(1), if the "child" has nearly "completely proceeded from the body of its mother", but its foot is still in the birth canal, Canada does not recognize the "child" as human. Is it subhuman? Near human? A child of another species? What is clear is that the child has no access to human rights or other legal protections as provided for in Canada’s commitments to the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1959 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Medicine recognizes a point of viability for a child in the womb. Science is prepared to experiment using pre-natal human tissue from conception onward. Professionals in the fields of ethics, science, and medicine are having the discussion about what is human in the face of modern experience, research and thought. It is time that Parliamentarians do the same and cease simply relying on the legal "born alive" definition that finds its roots in the 17th century’s Coke’s Institutes of Law. It is time to determine for ourselves, as Canadians, what definition reflects our beliefs about who, what and when is human.
Outgoing Letters & Declaration
- The ABC’s of Motion M-312 – Abortion, Bioethics & the Canadian Medical Association, Don Hutchinson, August 30, 2012
- Canada's Tarnished Human Rights Record: Lone Democracy Not Recognizing the Humanity of the Child in the Womb, Don Hutchinson, January 12, 2012
- The Debate is On: What is Human?, Faye Sonier, January 5, 2012
- Defying Common Sense: The Criminal Code and the Being-Born, Newly-Born and Unborn Child, Guest Blogger Andre Schutten, May 31, 2010
- The EFC's Don Hutchinson participated in an interview on the legal status of unborn children for the CBC TV show Power and Politics with Evan Solomon. Watch the video now while it is still available.
- EFC Legal Counsel also recently appeared on 100 Huntley Street.