(Vatican Radio) The Canadian Parliament Friday debated a motion that would re-open discussion on when human life begins. Under current Canadian law, a child is recognised as a human being only “at the moment of complete birth.”
Motion 312, introduced by MP Stephen Woodworth, would establish a parliamentary commission to investigate whether there is medical evidence for when human life begins, and whether Canadian law is consistent with the findings of science.
The motion is being opposed by politicians across the political spectrum. They argue that questioning when human life begins will undermine support for Canada’s extreme abortion laws, which are among the most permissive in the world.
Parliament is set to vote on the Motion next week.
The motion has prompted a statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In their statement, the Canadian bishops re-iterated the Church’s teaching that “human beings come into existence at the moment of conception.” They insisted that “the lives of human beings are, therefore, sacred at every stage in our existence—from beginning to natural end.”
The bishops invited all members of the Parliament to “take full account of the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life.”
The statement was signed by President of the CCCB, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton. He says, “what is of importance to us, obviously, is the question itself of when a child is recognised as a human being. And we took this as an opportunity to re-iterate what the church holds, namely, that one is a human being from the time of conception, obviously. This is something that does, in fact, accord with medical knowledge, with genetic science and so on.”
Archbishop Smith says that underlying this particular motion is a question of the relationship between politics and truth: “This question really asks Parliament to make sure that our Canadian law, which is of course crafted by the politicians that we elect, is in accord with truth, is in accord with scientific fact.”
Understood in those terms, he says, the truth is not something politicians should be afraid of: “The Church in this context, and in other contexts, will always say ‘Don’t be afraid of the truth! The truth liberates.’”
Listen to the complete interview of Archbishop Richard Smith with Christopher Wells:
Archbishop Richard Smith: Within the Canadian parliamentary system every member of parliament has the right to raise issues that he or she thinks parliament should address. So within that context, this particular member of parliament, by the name of Stephen Woodworth, based in Ontario, Kitchener constituency, has by means of a particular motion, he is wanting to ask parliament to take a look at a declaration, a statement within our Canadian criminal code, that has to do with when a child becomes a human being. And the Canadian criminal code has within it a statement based on a hundreds year old legal definition that a child becomes a human being only when the child exits the womb of the mother at birth. And this member of Parliament is saying, “Well, maybe we should take a look at that, things obviously have advanced, our medical knowledge and all sorts of knowledge has advanced quite a lot in the last couple of hundred years. Is this still an appropriate statement to have within our criminal code?”
So by means of this motion he’s asking for a parliamentary committee to be established that would actually study the question and look at how it accords or not with current medical knowledge.
So the bishops, when we became aware of this issued our statement. We don’t take a position one way or another on the existence of a parliamentary committee. That’s up to parliamentarians to decide how they look at a particular question. But what is of importance to us, obviously, is the question itself of when a child is recognised as a human being. And we took this as an opportunity to re-iterate what the church holds, namely, that one is a human being from the time of conception, obviously. This is something that does, in fact, accord with medical knowledge, with genetic science and so on.
And so we used our statement to re-iterate this, and also to invite parliamentarians to look very closely at this, to honour the sacredness of the human person in their deliberations, the sacredness which extends from conception, of course. And as well to call on our Canadian Catholics to pray that our parliamentarians will indeed weigh this carefully and seriously, and be guided in their deliberations.
Vatican Radio: And Your Grace, the motion is actually receiving a lot of criticism, it’s fairly controversial. Can you explain that? It seems that simply opening the question would not be that big of a deal. I mean, debate and open inquiry should be a normal part of the parliamentary system.
Abp Smith: Well, obviously we agree with that. The fundamental point here, it’s an interesting underlying issue which really extends beyond this particular question. And that’s the relationship between politics and truth. This question really asks Parliament to make sure that our Canadian law, which is of course crafted by the politicians that we elect, is in accord with truth, is in accord with scientific fact.
It raises a very significant question in that regard, because too often politics is determined by what is practical, by what is expedient, by what will garner the most votes, determined by what will keep us in power an so on. But we would want as citizens, and the Church obviously would hold, that we cannot have politics divorced from truth, we cannot have politics divorced from ethics or morality because to do so would be a very scary proposition. So in raising this one particular question, it goes to a far deeper issue, which really needs to be upheld.
VR: And when you speak about that relationship between truth and politics, and especially with regard to this question, this isn’t simply a religious issue, this isn’t something that’s a unique perspective of the bishops. . .
Abp Smith: Well that’s right, absolutely. This is something that any geneticist, any medical expert would be able to affirm, that from within those perspectives, human life begins at conception. And this particular legal declaration or legal definition that is within our criminal code, is really an arbitrary fiction. So I think the question is a valid one. Let’s take a look at how this accords with scientific fact, with medical knowledge. And just understood in those terms, it ought not to be something that any parliamentarian should be afraid of. The Church in this context, and in other contexts, will always say “Don’t be afraid of the truth! The truth liberates.”