Letter to the Prime Minister from the Catholic Organization for Life and Family

Friday, January 31 1997

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien
Prime Minister
Government of Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

Two days before Christmas, people from across the country and from different perspectives were shocked by the outcome in the Drummond case. The result, which failed to protect a full term baby who had been shot in the head two days before his birth, defied common sense and offended the moral sense of the average person.

While the decision may be rationalized on the basis of the wording of S. 223 of the Criminal Code, that section is not only ethically unsound but badly out of date with medical science and legal thinking. For your easy reference S. 223 is set out below:

223. (1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother whether or not

(a) it has breathed,

(b) it has an independent circulation, or

(c) the navel string is severed.

(2) A person commits homicide when he causes injury to a child before or during its birth as a result of which the child dies after becoming a human being.

Referring to this section in its 1989 Report, Crimes Against the Foetus, The Law Reform Commission of Canada said:

…the present Code has a curious provision in section 206 (now S. 223) to the effect that a child doesn’t become a human being until it has proceeded completely from its mother’s body. This, far from being a proper definition of the term, runs counter to the general consensus that the product of human conception, in the womb or outside, is a human being.

The renowned geneticist, Dr. Jérôme LeJeune, in testimony before the Legislative Committee studying Bill C-43 on abortion in March 1990, said:

We know, beyond any possible doubt, that when the sperm enters the ovum all the information required to make a human being…is present. We also know, with the same degree of certainty, that no subsequent genetic information, after fertilization, is passed on to a human being. This is neither the opinion of a moralist nor the hypothesis of a metaphysician, it is a very specific observation made in the course of experiment.

If it were not true that all the information required to define each human being is present at fertilization, in vitro fertilization would not be possible. If a human being did not exist at fertilization, it would be impossible for a sperm to enter an ovum in a test tube and for the embryo that may result to be transferred to a woman who is not the biological mother.

In other words, the fact that in vitro fertilization exists proves, beyond a doubt, that human life begins at fertilization.

More recently the Government in Bill C-47, the Human Reproductive and Genetic Technologies Act, has attempted, albeit imperfectly from our perspective, to protect the integrity of unborn human beings from a very early stage by prohibiting any research on embryos 14 days after conception.

The Council of Europe in its 1996 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine: Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine states in Article 18:

    1. Where the law allows research on embryos in-vitro, it shall ensure adequate protection of the embryo.*


    1. The creation of human embryos for research purposes is prohibited.


We remind you of the preamble in the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that says:

The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.

As you know, the criminal law is the Nation’s fundamental statement of public policy and applied morality. In its 1976 report, Our Criminal Law, The Law Reform Commission of Canada said:

In truth the Criminal Law is fundamentally a moral system. It may be crude, it may have faults, it may be rough and ready, but basically it is a system of applied morality and justice. It serves to underline those values necessary or important to society. When acts occur that seriously transgress essential values, like the sanctity of life, society must speak out and reaffirm those values. This is the true role of criminal law.

Surely, the result in the Drummond case seriously transgresses essential societal values about the fundamental worth of each human life at all stages of development. These values can be reaffirmed by repealing the archaic section 223 and replacing it with provisions that define the unborn child as a human being and protect him or her as a person from the time of conception. Anything less is contrary to good science, law and ethics.

In anticipation of the next election, we look forward to hearing how your Government proposes to respond to these serious concerns which are shared by so many Canadians who were stunned to hear that a full term baby is not considered a human being, leaving the wounded Johnathan Drummond without an apparent legal remedy.

Yours Sincerely,

Adam Exner, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Vancouver
Catholic Organization for Life and Family

c.c. The Honourable Allan Rock
Minister of Justice
Members of Parliament

* Note – The Council of Europe uses the word “embryo” for the stage that precedes the fourteenth day after conception whereas Bill C-47 uses the word “zygote”.