Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alberta's Puritans

The timing of this just amazes me. A day or so after I write a rant about the moral double standards of the far right, we get a little glimpse into the Alberta Government's position and directions.

It seems that our Minister of Justice, Ron Stevens, wants to make it possible for children to sue their mothers if they are injured in automotive accidents while mom is pregnant.

Superficially, this almost seems reasonable in a tragic situation where a baby is born severely disabled as a result of an automobile accident. Right now, if the mother was the 'at fault' party in the accident, the unborn child cannot sue their parents for their negligence. Ostensibly, this law would open up the ability for the mother's insurance company to be held financially liable for the costs incurred as result of the child's disabilities.

I'm sympathetic, it's always tragic when a child is born with serious disabilities, all the more so when those disabilities are the result of an accident. The burden that families of disabled people bear are huge - both financially and emotionally.

However, this particular law raises other alarms for me. It opens doors for a few other things. First, no matter how narrowly the law itself is written, it opens the door for mothers to be held financially responsible for whatever happens to their unborn children. I can't imagine such a non-sequitur. The mother is going to be raising their child (unless they give the baby up for adoption) - they are already going to bear the price of anything they do while pregnant, and in ways that are far deeper than mere dollars.

The second problem I see is that this law, along with some other laws in Alberta, is that it provides the unborn child with a significant degree of legal status. It is this status that worries me far more than the basic law proposed itself. In doing this, the Alberta Government is going down the path that would allow the anti-abortion crowd to argue that a fetus is in legal fact a person. Effectively, that would open the door for a woman to be sued, or held criminally responsible for the death of her unborn child as a result of an abortion (naturally occurring, or by medical procedure).

The implications of laws like this are often subtle. The anti-abortion crowd has been angling for years for a law to be introduced that provides an implicit declaration of the unborn as legal entities which deserve protections under the law. In authoring this law, Mr. Stevens has no doubt created just such a situation. This opens up all sorts of implications for women's rights and health issues. In a sense, it once again revokes a woman's control over her body once she becomes pregnant. Parents already bear the full responsibility for their actions where their children are involved. It seems positively insane to me to introduce the adverserial legal system into what is already an emotional mess.

Whether this suggests that Alberta's legislature is riddled with theo-conservatives or not is a matter of some discussion. Superficially, one would say not; and yet the obvious implications of this law certainly play into classic theo-conservative thinking. If it were Ralph Klein proposing the legislation, I'd say that it was pure coincidence - Ralph's not capable of the subtlety required. Ron Stevens and other MLAs are a different issue altogether.

[Update 3/11/2005-18:00]: A commentator on CBC just spun another intriguing counter interpretation of this law that I think bears considering. It may also signal another attempt by the Klein government to further download long term health care costs. An intriguing prospect, and one that I hadn't thought of...


Anonymous said...

The other problem with this law is that it's designed to abbrogate society's responsibilty for the disabled. The point of the legislation is so that the private insurance companies are sued for the injuries and reslutant care and that the health care system doesn't have to deal with it.

It's just another way to privatize health care, on top of all the other arguments presented here.


Anonymous said...

But there is one VERY signifiant thing that you are missing.

By granting rights to the unborn in regards to suing the mother, it opens up a whole can of worms. What if the mother has a drink when pregnent? Or does drugs? Or fails to drink four glasses of milk each day? Or doesn't get adequeate rest? Can the child sue the parent for not providing the **best** while they were in the womb? e.g. blaming future failure - intelligence, physical strength/capabilities, appearance, etc... on the mother?

There is a lot of liability here that is opened up - and we should ask ourselves, if as a society we really want to go there?