SINGAPORE: Proposed amendments to the law may soon allow parents of stillborn children the option to register names for their infants, an important recognition of the emotional significance of stillbirths.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) highlighted this development in a media release on Tuesday (7 Nov) when the proposed amendments were introduced in parliament.
The MHA stressed the resemblance between stillbirths and the loss of any child, acknowledging the profound pain experienced by parents.
Officially naming a stillborn child could bring solace to bereaved parents and marks a step forward in understanding the emotional and psychological dimensions of this experience.
The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, last updated in 2021, is on the verge of significant revisions that could reshape the acknowledgment and commemoration of stillborn children.
The proposed changes broaden the definition of a stillborn child to encompass those born after 24 weeks of pregnancy, up from the current 22-week threshold.
Parents can request Commemorative Birth Certificates before new rules apply
In the interim, before these proposed changes come into effect, parents have the option to request commemorative birth certificates for their stillborn children, bearing their names, through the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
This interim measure provides a means of remembrance.
It’s a step that Ms Mandy Too and Mr Aidan Hoy sought official recognition for the names of their stillborn twins.
Ms Too initiated an online petition in April, garnering approximately 2,800 signatures.
In early October, the couple received an email from ICA, offering them the opportunity to apply for commemorative birth certificates for their twins.
While these certificates bear the names of stillborn children, it’s important to note that they are not official legal documents, as emphasized by the Ministry for Home Affairs, K Shanmugam.
In a response to a parliamentary question from Associate Professor Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) in September 2022, Mr Shanmugam clarified that the government does not require the names of stillborn children for the administration of public policies.
The registration process was designed to be fully automated to alleviate administrative burdens for grieving parents.
At that time, ICA had received only one request to register the names of stillborn children.
Nevertheless, these developments signify an increasing sensitivity to the needs of parents who have experienced the loss of a stillborn child.
Key factors underpinning the potential amendment to the definition of stillborn child
The potential decision to amend the definition of a stillborn child to after 24 weeks of pregnancy is underpinned by several key factors, as highlighted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
This adjustment is aimed at aligning the legal framework with the provisions outlined in the Termination of Pregnancy Act, which permits abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy exclusively in cases of medical exigencies.
Such alignment seeks to bring coherence to the regulations governing pregnancies at various stages.
Furthermore, the MHA points to feedback from the medical community, which has expressed concerns regarding the current 22-week threshold for defining a stillborn child.
This threshold was established in 2021 to align with the World Health Organization’s reporting guidelines.
However, there is a growing perception that this threshold might be misconstrued as an indicator of fetal viability—the ability of a human fetus to survive outside the uterus.
This potential misinterpretation could introduce confusion for parents faced with critical and challenging decisions regarding medical interventions for their unborn children.
The MHA acknowledges that this ambiguity might inadvertently place undue pressure on medical practitioners, leading to the utilization of more liberal treatment options for infants born between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, including resuscitation efforts.
This well-intentioned approach may, in turn, result in a higher likelihood of severe neurodevelopmental disabilities in surviving infants and an increased frequency of futile resuscitation attempts.
The MHA recognizes the potential harm and ethical dilemmas that such circumstances may generate.
In light of these concerns, the proposed bill takes a decisive step in amending the threshold in the definition of a stillborn child to after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
This amendment serves to eliminate any lingering uncertainty regarding fetal viability, providing a more precise framework for defining stillbirth.
Additionally, the bill reiterates and clarifies the existing stance that abortion is distinct from and should not be considered a stillbirth, further underscoring the need for a clear and unambiguous legal distinction in this context.
Commemorative Birth Certificates for stillborns offer name inclusion for personal remembrance
On Monday (6 Nov), Workers’ Party MP Associate Professor Jamus Lim raised a pertinent question in Parliament regarding the issuance of Commemorative Birth Certificates (CBCs) to parents of stillborn babies.
Specifically, Assoc Prof Lim sought clarity on the need for parents to proactively apply for CBCs on a case-by-case basis, rather than having them automatically issued.
In response to Assoc Prof Lim’s inquiries, Mr K Shanmugam, the Minister for Home Affairs, provided a comprehensive explanation.
He pointed out that CBCs include the name of the stillborn child, primarily for remembrance purposes.
Given the deeply personal and sensitive nature of the decision to name a stillborn child, CBCs are issued exclusively upon parental request.
Mr Shanmugam also shed light on the collaborative efforts between maternity hospitals and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).
These entities have been working in tandem to ensure that parents are adequately informed about the possibility of obtaining a CBC in the unfortunate event of a stillborn child.
This crucial information has been made readily accessible through the ICA’s official website, enhancing transparency and awareness surrounding this commemorative process.