Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 10, 1999
Magazine barred from reporting on Calgary abortions
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Calgary Regional Health Authority is trying to muzzle Alberta Report magazine because it doesn't want the public to know about Foothills Hospital's eugenic abortion program, says the magazine's publisher.
Link Byfield also says the CRHA is trying to silence the magazine to protect its staff from possible criminal charges.
"Clearly it's censorship," Byfield said of a Court of Queen's Bench interim injunction prohibiting Alberta Report from publishing any information on the hospital program based on confidential CRHA information.
CRHA officials say the injunction is needed to stop Alberta Report from using "illegally obtained" information which may compromise the privacy of patients and the safety of staff.
Justice Roy Deyell awarded the injunction April 30 pending a more extensive hearing. No date for the hearing has been set.
In its May 3 cover story, Alberta Report used leaked management memoranda and detailed accounts from unidentified nurses to report that Calgary's Foothills Hospital is forcing nurses to assist in what it calls eugenic abortions.
The article describes how at Foothills Hospital some premature infants are born alive, then routinely allowed to die.
It says last August a doctor told a mother-to-be that her baby suffered from lethal genetic defects. She was persuaded to undergo a "genetic termination." An induction abortion was performed only five weeks before the baby was due.
The baby was born alive, the story said, and while it lived for 12 hours, nurses were forbidden to provide it with food or fluids.
Nurses took turns rocking and holding the baby until it died, the story said, adding it was one of 40 genetic abortions that occurred at Foothills in 1998.
Dr. Ian Lang, regional department head of obstetrics and gynecology, questioned Alberta Report's accuracy, saying only about five genetic terminations a year are done at Foothills.
And he said all abortions at Foothills are done according to the policies of the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The college's rules restrict abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. From 20 to 24 weeks, doctors can do abortions only if a licensed health professional detects genetic damage or if there is a significant risk the baby will have a serious disorder.
After 24 weeks, the college permits abortions only if the fetus has a condition confidently predicted to be lethal during the first 30 days after birth.
Lang said lethal abnormalities include babies that have no brains, no kidneys or underdeveloped lungs.
But he said genetic terminations are "very rare" at Foothills and are offered only as a last resort. "No couple is ever forced to have an induction of labour."
Sometimes aborted fetuses live for brief periods but they "are treated with utmost respect," Lang said. Food and fluids are given to them if necessary.
Rosemary Burness, the CRHA's administrative leader for maternal newborn services, said nurses who have moral objections to participating in abortions or genetic terminations are not forced to participate as reported in Alberta Report.
Burness said eight nurses are not compelled to participate because of their ethical objections.
However, 10 years ago the hospital began telling new nurses they would be expected to participate in the procedures so they could decide whether they want to work in that area, Burness said.
On May 4 The Edmonton Journal revealed unborn babies with lethal genetic defects are also aborted at Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Joanne Hatton, president of Alberta Pro-Life, said her group will pressure health authorities for records of late-term abortions.
No one can be sure the babies can't have a meaningful life simply because they may have genetic abnormalities, Hatton said.
Elizabeth Denham, information and privacy coordinator with the CRHA, said the CRHA is using the court simply to "protect patient confidentiality" and the physical safety of its staff.
The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act "prevents us from disclosing information on patients and information that puts our staff at risk," she said.
Denham said some hospital documents provided to Alberta Report contain descriptions of cases that could identify patients. The documents also contain the names of two doctors and other staff who work on the Foothills genetic termination unit.
But Byfield told the WCR May 3 that Alberta Report is only interested in exposing "what's going on in the hospital," not in disclosing staff or patients' names. He said the magazine reassured the CRHA twice in writing that it won't disclose names.
"I have to assume that they are trying to protect their staff from homicide charges under the Criminal Code of Canada," he said. "It's still a crime to let babies starve to death."
Alberta Report is also fighting a CRHA statement of claim which asks for the names of the nurses who gave information to the magazine and all the material used for the story, Byfield said.
"They want to be able to shut down any information flow coming out of that hospital."