A civil action (Dobson vs.
Dobson) is launched on behalf of Ryan Dobson by Gerald Price,
his maternal grandfather and guardian. The action is against the
boy's mother for prenatal injuries sustained by the boy as a fetus.
Cynthia Dobson of Moncton, N.B., was 27 weeks pregnant when her car
collided with a pickup truck in a near fatal accident in 1993.
Doctors performed an emergency caesarean section. Born three months
premature, Ryan has serious physical and mental impairments,
including cerebral palsy. Gerald Price wants to win damages from
Dobson's insurance company for Ryan's care. (i)
Brenda Drummond, a 28-year-old
postal worker and mother of two, is charged with attempted murder of
her son and with criminal negligence causing bodily harm. On May 28,
Drummond shot herself in the vagina with a pellet gun. Two days
later, she delivered her son, Jonathon, alone in the bathroom of her
home outside of Ottawa. A brain scan reveals that the infant has an
injury from a pellet. Drummond spends the next month in a
psychiatric hospital undergoing assessment. Counsel for Drummond
argues that there is no offense and the case should be dismissed as
a fetus is not a person. (ii)
A settlement is reached between Cynthia
Dobson (and her insurance company) and Ryan Dobson (represented by
his guardian Gerald Price). The insurance company agrees to provide
an undisclosed sum for Ryan's care (iii). If the
boy wins the right to sue his mother, the company agrees to make a
further payment without the requirement of additional court
Jonathon Drummond is released
from hospital in good condition. Brenda Drummond spends the next
seven months in a psychiatric hospital being treated for depression.
A case is brought forward by
Winnipeg Family and Child Services against a pregnant mother of
three children. Two of these children suffer from brain damage as a
result of her drug dependency. Mr. Justice Perry Schulman of the
Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench commits the 22-year old pregnant
aboriginal woman (called "G") to drug treatment after ruling that
she is not mentally competent as a result of her addiction to
sniffing solvents such as glue, nail polish remover and paint
thinner. A court-ordered psychiatric report, however, finds the
woman mentally competent. This decision of the "G" case seems to
protect the health of the fetus. (vi) The mother
appeals this decision.
The Manitoba Court of
Appeal unanimously reverses the decision of the lower court in
Winnipeg Child and Family Services v. G (D.F.). The
Court rules that courts cannot order a mentally competent person to
undergo treatment against her will. (vii)
The Supreme Court of Canada grants
leave to hear the appeal of Winnipeg Child and Family Services in
the "G" case to resolve the issue of whose rights should prevail:
those of a woman or those of a fetus.(viii) By
the time this case is scheduled to reach the Court, the woman will
already have given birth to her baby.
Ontario Court (Provincial
Division) judge Madam Inger Hansen dismisses the attempted murder
charge against Brenda Drummond, holding that the fetus is not a
person until birth and is not included in the Criminal Code.(ix)
announces that the court's decision in R. v. Drummond
will not be appealed.(x)
A New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench judge
rules that a child has the right to sue his mother for injuries
suffered in a car accident while still in her uterus. Mr. Justice
Richard Miller says no Canadian precedent exists with respect to
whether a child can sue his or her mother for prenatal injuries. The
judge rejects arguments that Ryan Dobson could not sue because the
accident occurred before birth. Lawyers for Cynthia Dobson appeal
Brenda Drummond appears in
court on the charge of criminal negligence. She pleads guilty to a
lesser charge of failing to provide the necessities of life to her
son by not telling doctors that she had shot herself during
pregnancy. Justice Hansen gives Drummond a suspended sentence and 30
month's probation. Drummond had told a psychiatrist that she was
attempting to commit suicide and did not know that she was pregnant
when she shot herself.(xii)
The New Brunswick Court of
Appeal upholds the earlier decision of a lower court allowing Ryan
Dobson to sue his mother for injuries he sustained in a car accident
as a fetus. The court says that a pregnant mother has a duty to
The "G" case is heard by the
Supreme Court of Canada. Twelve intervenors on both sides of the
fetal rights issue, (such as women's, aboriginal, human rights and
religious groups) present arguments before the Court.(xiv)
Counsel for Cynthia
Dobson seeks leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Leave
to appeal is granted in November without reasons.(xv)
In the "G"
case, the Supreme Court of Canada rules 7-2 that courts cannot force
a pregnant woman to undergo treatment to prevent harm to her fetus.
The Court reaffirms that a fetus does not have legal rights.(xvi)
The Supreme Court of
Canada announces that it will hear Dobson v. Dobson to
determine if a child can sue his or her mother for prenatal injuries
sustained in a car accident.(xvii)
Cynthia Dobson's appeal is
heard and reserved by the Supreme Court of Canada.(xviii)
The Supreme Court of Canada
rules that a child cannot sue its mother for injuries incurred
Produced with support
Development Services International of
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Street West, Suite 502, Toronto, ON M5S 3A7
(i)"Mother Sued Over
Prenatal Injuries", Globe and Mail (4 February 1997), A8.
(ii)"Shooting of Fetus Sparks Debate Over Status of
Unborn", Toronto Star (22 June 1996), A8.
(iii)Dobson v. Dobson Supreme Court of Canada
decision, p. 3
(iv)"Ryan vs. His Mom: Can a
Woman Be Sued for Damage to Her Fetus?" Maclean's (21
December 1998), p. 91.
in Shooting of Fetus", Globe and Mail (7 February 1997),
(vi)"Judge's Order for Care 'Ethical'",
Globe and Mail (8 August 1996), A1.
(vii)"Pregnant Women's Rights Affirmed", Globe and
Mail (13 September 1996), A1.
Court to Consider Fetal Rights", Toronto Star (19 October
(ix)"Woman Cleared in Shooting of
Unborn with Pellet Gun", Globe and Mail (24 December 1996),
(x)"Appeal Ruled Out in Case of Shot
Fetus", Globe and Mail (22 January 1997), A10.
(xi)"Mother Sued Over Prenatal Injuries", Globe and
Mail (4 February 1997), A8.
(xii)"Probation for Mother Who Shot Unborn Son",
Toronto Star (7 February 1997), A12.
(xiii)"Case Raises Issue of Restrictions on Pregnant
Women", Globe and Mail (30 May 1997), A12.
(xiv)"Woman in Glue-Sniffing Case is Pregnant Again",
Ottawa Citizen (18 June 1997), A1.
(xv)"Mother Fights Lawsuit by Son's Guardian",
Toronto Star (4 September 1997), A12.
(xvi)"Lawmakers Must Decide Rights of Unborn, Top
Court Says", Ottawa Citizen (1 November 1997), A1.
(xvii)"Top Court to Hear Case of Boy Hurt Before
Birth", Toronto Star (21 November 1997), A8.
(xviii)"High Court Asked to Let Boy Sue Mom for
Injuries Suffered in Women", Edmonton Journal (9 December 1998),
(xix) Supreme Court of Canada &SHY;
Judgment in Appeals Press Release, (9 July 1999).