Doctors and dying declarations: the role of the state in abortion regulation in British Columbia, 1917-37.

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In Canada, the history of state regulation of abortion is underexamined, leaving the general impression that the state played a secondary role to that of the medical profession in attempting to enforce the federal anti-abortion law. Studies have focused on "regular" physicians as a regulator of abortion to such an extent that the state's involvement in this process has been largely neglected or obscured. In contrast, this study highlights the actions taken by lower-level state agencies, namely, the Coroner's Inquisition and municipal and provincial police, to enforce the federal abortion law in British Columbia. The study examines the records of the inquests held into the deaths of 34 women from illegal abortion and offers three main observations. First, state agencies consistently sought information about abortionists and the circumstances surrounding the abortions from the women in hospital, their families, lovers, and doctors. Especially important is how authorities routinely attempted to extract dying declarations from the ill women. Second, while it is clear doctors participated in the investigative process, the records suggest they were often ambivalent or reluctant to do so. Finally, this study concludes that many of the actors involved in these events resisted the authorities' attempts to enforce the law, some successfully, thereby effectively undermining state regulatory practices as a result.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-81
Number of pages29
JournalCanadian bulletin of medical history = Bulletin canadien d'histoire de la médecine
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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