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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 1 Hansard (14 February) . . Page.. 295 ..


The arrival of new Canberrans is always something worth celebrating but we ought not to forget that there are parents for whom birth is a time of sadness and grief, for babies who have died during pregnancy and are stillborn. In other cases birth may be bittersweet where a heartbreaking decision has been made to reduce a multiple pregnancy in accordance with medical advice to give siblings the best possible chance of life.

We all feel great sympathy for these bereaved parents and want to make sure that our government processes are sensitive to their needs rather than adding to their distress. With this bill we are providing greater flexibility in our birth registration process in the ACT to give parents a choice as to whether to register their stillborn babies who have died in utero before 20 weeks gestation but are born after 20 weeks. This will affect only a small group of parents but it is nevertheless an important reform. The choice will help grieving parents by allowing them to decide whether registering the birth would provide desired formal recognition of the child lost or whether this process would compound their grief.

I can only imagine the sadness and difficulty of having to decide to reduce a multiple pregnancy based on medical advice. These instances are rare, but sometimes in a multiple pregnancy it is necessary to let one child go to reduce a life-threatening health risk to the mother or to ensure that other siblings have the highest chance of survival. It is a heartbreaking decision to have to make in those circumstances.

In the case of selective reduction, the reduction may occur early in the pregnancy but the foetus may remain in utero until the birth of siblings, being born after 20 weeks, which is the date when normally a stillborn child is required to be registered. For many parents in this situation the requirement to name and register the baby that has died through selective reduction can be a traumatic reminder of this very difficult decision. Currently, parents in this situation must also include the stillborn child on the birth certificate of siblings as part of the multiple birth. Parents must also include the stillborn child on the birth registration of their subsequent children.

Grief is a very personal journey and there are bereaved parents who would like to recognise and honour the life lost in a formal way through giving the baby a name and keeping a birth certificate. For those parents, formal registration can be a helpful process.

There is no such thing as the correct way to grieve or acknowledge pregnancy loss, and every family will deal with these losses in their own way. For that reason parents should be given a choice to decide whether they want to register a child who is stillborn after 20 weeks but who died in utero before 20 weeks. This bill will give them that choice.

It is important to acknowledge that this bill has a limited scope of operation and applies to the particular situation of a child dying in utero before 20 weeks but being born after 20 weeks. In part this is to ensure that the bill will not affect the overarching purpose of the register of births, deaths and marriages and the important data collection that forms the basis of perinatal death statistics in Australia.


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