Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Scientifically speaking

  • February 7, 2012

The planet is a better place because humans are a curious species. Occasionally, a scientific discovery comes by happen-chance but typically it flows from a curious mind asking the right question.

Thus we are living longer and more comfortably than ever. Progress has been mankind’s hallmark since before the invention of the wheel. Life is full of wonder. One discovery leads to another. The Wright brothers wondered if man could fly and barely a lifetime later Neil Armstrong was standing on the moon.

There was a time, of course, when the Church believed some questions were better left unasked. But the days have long passed since the likes of  Galileo or Darwin were considered threats. Today, the Church embraces science, particularly when it can advance the common good of mankind.

So, in that vein, Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth is to be commended for urging Parliament to engage in a scholarly, scientific debate about life itself. He tabled a private member’s motion Feb. 6 seeking a special Parliamentary committee to review the Criminal Code section that says a child is not a human being until “the moment of complete birth.” As such, it has no legal rights and is entitled to no protection under law.

It makes abundant sense to gather experts in the areas of science, medicine, law, bioethics and human rights and, as Woodworth says, examine the scientific evidence and have a civil conversation about something so fundamental. The debate in fact is long overdue.

Ironically, though, like the Church in the Middle Ages, Parliament wants no part of a scientific and medical investigation that could raise questions about entrenched beliefs. Parliament’s position on life has been formed by a political creed that would gain nothing, for instance, from exploring the paradox of taxpayer-funded prenatal surgery on tiny patients who are treated like human beings in all respects but the law. A surgeon may tell you their unborn patient is a human being but a judge is compelled to rule they’re not.

The crux of the issue, of course, is that if experts conclude life within a womb is part of  humanity, then unborn children should be entitled to protection under the Canadian Charter. And the most basic legal right of all citizens is the right to life.

Woodworth, a Catholic lawyer, wants to keep politics and religion out of the debate. The focus, he said, should be about the scientific and medical evidence, which he believes proves that at some point in the womb a fetus becomes a human being. The Church believes human life begins at conception. Others may disagree on the timing, but a mature democracy should be able to have that discussion.

That’s all Woodworth is asking. He wants to talk. We hope his parliamentary colleagues are listening.

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