Motion 312 - 1st Hour of Debate
S. WOODWORTH SPEECH – Motion 312
April 26, 2012
The oriental proverb says “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 human being. Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices but does it make medical sense in the twenty-first century?
Our knowledge has come a long way in 400 years. We now know when a child’s organs, from heart to liver to 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 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 utmost honesty? It’s sad to even ask this question. It’s sad that it’s 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’s so important is that powerful people can strip vulnerable people of all rights by decreeing 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’s the way the UN Declaration of Human Rights puts it: (quote)“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.”(end quote)
That’s 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? Believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human into a human being? Very few!
Most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.
In 1857 nine highly educated, civilized judges of the US Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not “persons” under U.S. law. If you had been in congress then, wouldn’t you have put up your hand and said “That’s 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 you had been in Parliament then, wouldn’t you have put up your hand and said “That’s wrong.”
Now in the 21st Century we discover we have a 400 year old law that decrees some children are not human beings. Why not put up your hand and say “That’s wrong!”
We should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human!
If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is “who’s next?”
This question was recently answered for us. Professors Alberto Guibilini and Augusta 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 you accept their premise that it’s 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 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 own words: They say: (quote)“The same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.”(end quote)
This might sound like a spoof, but it’s not. It’s a serious conclusion from serious academics. And it is completely logical if it’s acceptable to decree, without regard to biological reality or principles of human rights, that some human beings are not human persons.
L’article de Guibilini et Minerva nous explique pourquoi il est si important que le Parlement rejette toute loi qui affirme que certains êtres humains ne sont pas des êtres humains!
The Guibilini-Minerva article shows why it’s 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 but later die, are classified as “termination of pregnancy.”
Émile Zola, le grand homme de lettres, a jadis été accusé de trahison pour avoir défendu les droits de la personne fondamentaux d’un militaire français. Ce qu’il a alors déclaré traduit mes inquiétudes quant au paragraphe 223(1). Je vous le cite ici : « Je dénonce à la conscience des honnêtes gens cette pression […] sur la justice du nos pays ».
“I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear....upon the justice of our country.”
Motion 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 or recommendation, but merely to report options.
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 mere study is (quote)”because they dread your good sense – they dare not run the risk of letting us tell all and of letting you judge the whole matter.”(end quote)
Again using Zola’s words, I have had to (quote)“fight step by step against an extraordinarily obstinate desire for darkness.” “A battle is necessary to obtain every atom of truth.” (end quote) As Zola said, I say: (quote) “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.”(end quote)
Lorsque vous voyez un enfant avant sa naissance, voyez-vous une nouvelle vie humaine, avec un cœur qui bat, et des mains, completes comme chez tout être humain, ou bien ne voyez-vous qu’un objet, un obstacle, voire un « parasite »? Accepterez-vous au moins que l’on examine les preuves existantes?!
When you consider a child before birth, do you see a new human life, with a beating human heart and ten human fingers or do you see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a “parasite.” Will you at least consider the evidence!!
And if the evidence tells you that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, will you close your eyes to the truth simply to justify abortion?
Do you need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth to justify abortion? You do not! Even if a child is a human being, it is completely arguable that the mother’s rights outweigh her child’s rights.
Mais, lorsque les droits de deux personnes entrent en conflit, il n’est jamais – jamais – acceptable de nier que l’un d’entre eux soit un être humain.
But when the rights of two people conflict, it is never – never – acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being, deserving recognition as a human being.
Justice Bertha Wilson, in the 1988 Morgentaler case throwing out Canada’s abortion law, said the following (quote)
“The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state’s interest in its protection becomes “compelling” I leave to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive guidance on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.”(end quote)
Those are her words!
Clearly, this eminent jurist, with impeccable feminist credentials, believed 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 rights of children after the second trimester. They are unaware 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 recognise the rights of children at least during the third trimester.
Mr. Speaker this consensus is greater than on any other issue today. Canadians across our great country are beginning to know from their own experience, and 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 you 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’s not the Canada Canadians want. If you search your heart, that’s not the Canada you want either.
If you care about the truth, you will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect Parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the true facts! Will you be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? You can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with you.
Justice Wilson suggested that Parliament inform itself from “the relevant disciplines.” Motion 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 twenty-first century information from all the relevant disciplines – as recommended so many years ago by Justice Bertha Wilson. It’s Parliament’s duty to do that much.
A great Canadian once said: (quote) “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.”
“Moral ambiguity, moral equivalence are not options, they are dangerous illusions.”(end quote)
Don’t concern yourself with fearful imaginings but look solely at the dishonesty of subsection 223(1). Cast your vote to expose that to the light of scientific evidence. Canadians will thank you for it.
Je vous en conjure : réconcilions ensemble les Canadiens et les Canadiennes sur cette noble question de droits de la personne.
I implore you – let us together reconcile Canadians on these noble issues of human rights.