Other Question #415

Edward Lotus, a 17 year old male from Wawa, Ontario asks on November 27, 2001,

Is it a crime to prevent the birth of a malformed fetus? I strongly feel that we should terminate the pregnancy before the fetus is born. But it seems to be so hard to find reasons for that. What is your opinion?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on November 28, 2001

In Canada, it is not a crime to terminate pregnancy when the unborn child is malformed. The decision to end any pregnancy is made by the mother in consultation with her doctor.

To understand the implications of a decision to destroy all malformed fetuses, you must first define the term "malformed." Many children born with a harelip or club foot are able through the miracle of modern surgery to live perfectly normal lives. Children born with mental and physical handicaps can live fully and richly. Would you deny them their lives? Could you decide what kind of life would not be acceptable? Whose decision is it?

Society is wrestling with these and many other conflicts resulting from scientific advances in genetics. The recent adoption into our lexicon of the term "wrongful birth" seems to indicate that society does think some lives are not worth living. In summer of 2001, the high court in France ruled in favour of a family of a severely disabled teenager in a lawsuit against medical authorities that in effect says the child ought never have been born. The boy has heart problems and is deaf, dumb, partly blind, and mentally disabled. In Canada, a BC family is going before the Supreme Court in a suit against their doctor, who neglected to inform them that testing was available for women over 35, who have a greater likelihood of giving birth to a Downs syndrome child. Their child has Downs syndrome and needs expensive care and equipment.

These issues will continue to present moral dilemmas. In my opinion, society should ensure that good counselling is available for those families who must select among difficult choices. In the end, it is the families who decide.

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