Pursuant to my brief post on the defeat of M-312, one commenter (David Nickol) observes that the motion was, if I may so paraphrase, ill-considered:


M312 would have set up a committee in parliament to answer 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).


By human being the Canadians seem to mean something more akin to what we would call a human person.


Whether an unborn child at any specific state of development is a human being or a human person is not a medical question. It is a philosophical question, upon which there is no significant hope of reaching a resolution, especially in a legislature. Hundreds of years of legal precedent go against considering an unborn child a human person. To do so has all kinds of unknown ramifications for pregnant women, each of whom will be put in the unique situation of being a human person with another human person inside of her who deserves full protection of the law.



On my view, he is right to question the motion along these lines, which is why I declined to sign a major statement of support for it that was circulated to MPs. Instead, I and a couple of professors from other universities published in the National Post a letter that read as follows:

Canadians have for too long countenanced an indefensible degree of separation between legal convenience and moral reality.  The significance of M-312 (the Woodworth motion calling for reconsideration of s. 223 of the Criminal Code) is that it invites Parliament to make amends for that. Though there is much debate philosophically over the essence of personhood, few doubt that the human fetus carries within itself the requisite attributes for personhood. It has nevertheless been tempting not to count the pre-born among those with legal standing, just as it was once convenient not to count slaves or women. With much difficulty we faced our moral failure with respect to the latter and modified the law accordingly. Is it not time we did so for the former also? Or do we so covet legal immunity from the killing of the pre-born that we are prepared to sacrifice all moral consistency?



It will be evident, of course, that I do not agree with Mr Nickol’s conclusion that the motion was “not worth the effort” or even deserving of defeat.  For a further articulation of my own view, I refer interested readers to A Chance to Resuscitate Canadian Politics .

Articles by Douglas Farrow

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