Tuesday April 13, 2010

Canadian Researchers Call for Doctors to Take Measures Against Sex-Selective Abortion

By Patrick B. Craine

EDMONTON, Alberta, April 12, 2010 ( – Two Canadian medical experts have called for new medical guidelines to prevent sex-selective abortions in Canada, noting that with the country’s legal vacuum on abortion, the burden of regulating the practice is left to obstetricians and gynecologists.

In an article published in the January 2010 edition of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, Dr. Brendan Leier, a bioethicist at the University of Alberta, and Dr. Allison T. Thiele, a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Saskatchewan, point out that widespread availability of ultrasound technology and abortion in cultures with a cultural bias towards boys has led to serious demographic problems. They explain that this has become a particular problem in countries like China and India, but that it has also been observed in immigrant communities within Canada and elsewhere.

Dr. Leier told LifeSiteNews (LSN) Monday that their article is aimed at showing the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), which formally opposes sex-selective abortion, how their existing guidelines surrounding ultrasounds can be interpreted so as to be in harmony with their opposition to sex selection.

“Even though [the SOGC] espoused this policy, there was no actual mechanism in place to prevent the practice of sex selection in termination,” he said. “So what we’re doing is taking a very, very careful look at the existing policies and attempting to ascertain if inside those policies we can actually do something.”

Leier and Thiele propose that health professionals delay reporting an unborn baby’s sex until after the gestational age at which, they say, “termination for non-medical reasons is no longer an option.” They recommend a strict “standard-care guideline for all pregnant women.”

Leier said that they are not advocating that doctors withhold medical information, which he emphasized is illegal and unethical, but that doctors simply should not seek out the baby’s gender, and so would not have that information to disclose. He pointed out that the SOGC guidelines even say that extra time during the ultrasound should not be taken to ascertain the gender.

“We advocate a strict interpretation of [the SOGC ultrasound] policy so that the physician is not in a position to either disclose that information or not because it’s not on the chart,” he said.

Dr. Alain Gagnon of the B.C. Children and Women’s Hospital told the National Post that doctors in British Columbia have taken a similar approach for the last several years, refusing to disclose the baby’s gender until 20 weeks gestation. “Many of them find it a little silly that they have to wait to get the information,” said Dr. Gagnon. “[But] the vast majority of people seem to be happy with it.”

Leier and Thiele maintain in their article, citing numerous pieces of evidence, that Canadian values are opposed to sex-selective abortion. In addition to the SOGC’s opposition, they note a statistic from the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies showing that 92% of Canadians oppose the practice.

Additionally, they highlight the fact that the federal government’s 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act forbids interventions that would “ensure or increase the probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex.” While this Act dealt with the “creation of embryos,” the authors write, “it is not unreasonable to assume that the values that drive the prohibition of sex selection are addressing the goal of sex selection itself, rather than the technical means to achieve that end.”

Leier told LSN that he believes Canadian obstetricians and gynecologists are forced to assume a role of regulating abortions in the face of Canada’s legal vacuum on the issue. “The burden of … governing the process of therapeutic abortions basically falls solely on the heads of obstetricians and gynaecologists in Canada because there’s no abortion law,” he said, adding that the lack of a law “makes Canada really stand out from any other Western liberal democracy.”

“I think the professionals assume a responsibility of making policy that addresses in some way the moral questions as well,” he continued. “It’s really inappropriate. … The burden shouldn’t fall on them.”

He added that if Canadians disagree with sex-selective abortion, there “should be a national political response.”

Joyce Arthur, coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, told the National Post that Leier and Thiele’s recommendations would be ineffective because of the easy availability of gender tests. She argued that Canadians should focus on changing attitudes that are against girls instead of limiting abortion.

“To restrict people’s freedoms, withholding information in that way, I think is unethical and unnecessary and is not going to prevent anything,” she said. “It’s a little bit paternalistic and authoritarian.”

Leier responded that this was a “convenient answer.” “I would have preferred that she answer the question ‘do you believe that termination should be used for sex selection?’” he said.

“The burden of proof is on her to say, as someone who advocates for the right to have an abortion, should there be any governance on the use of therapeutic abortion to begin with,” he continued. “The burden of proof should be on folks like that to come out and say if they really believe that you should terminate a baby based on sex.”

LSN did not hear back from Joyce Arthur by press time.

Leier and Thiele argue that their proposal is important to upholding physicians’ freedom of conscience. “This guideline would be in harmony with the physician’s fundamental responsibilities to pursue the welfare of their patients and the well-being of society in matters affecting health by refusing to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights or principles of medical ethics,” they explain.

When asked what the problem is with sex-selective abortions, Leier noted the fact that there are tens of millions of missing women in China and India. “It’s really become a human rights issue, broadly speaking,” he said.

See the study: ‘Towards an Ethical Policy for the Prevention of Fetal Sex Selection in Canada’

See related coverage:

Internal Hospital Memo Provides Evidence of Sex-Selective Abortion in Canada

Ultrasounds Used for Sex-Selected Abortion in Ethnic Canadian Communities

Sex-Selective Abortion Comes to America

China By 2020: 30 Million Unhappy Bachelors

Indian Abortion Proponents “Stumped” By Growing Dearth of Girls Due to Sex-Selection

Indian Women March against Sex-Selective Abortion


Commenting Guidelines
LifeSiteNews welcomes thoughtful, respectful comments that add useful information or insights. Demeaning, hostile or propagandistic comments, and streams not related to the storyline, will be removed.

LSN commenting is not for frequent personal blogging, on-going debates or theological or other disputes between commenters.

Multiple comments from one person under a story are discouraged (suggested maximum of three). Capitalized sentences or comments will be removed (Internet shouting).

LifeSiteNews gives priority to pro-life, pro-family commenters and reserves the right to edit or remove comments.

Comments under LifeSiteNews stories do not necessarily represent the views of LifeSiteNews.