Dear All Parents of Ontario...
There’s a simple message we need to be relaying to the powers-that-be in our beloved province: Please stop putting gunk in our babies’ eyes! Or at the very least please grant us the right to say no.
For some reason, Ontario feels the need to enforce a practice dating back to a time when coal heating was all the rage. Although the practice of administering an eye prophylaxis is woefully out of date with current research regarding the use of antibiotics (if the words “antibiotic-resistant superbugs” don’t give you the creeps, nothing will), it’s actually the lack of consent that really pokes at this momma-bear.
It was through my time under the care of midwives that I truly began to understand the difference between informed consent and implied consent, and how easily these lines are blurred in the medical world, especially when it comes to pregnancy and birth.
The language used during my prenatal care included phrases like “would you like this test?” and “here are your options.” Every step of the way was about providing me with the information I needed to makes choices that were right for me and my unborn child. Yes, there were obviously recommendations and guidance from my midwives, but the final decision was ultimately mine.
Except when it comes to putting erythromycin in my newborn babies’ eyes. Minutes old, my tiny daughter was taken from me and given a medicine I had no say in. To refuse treatment could warrant fines for my midwife and red flags from public health and child protection agencies.
Are you serious? How is this possible? Aren’t there laws to protect the rights of parents? The short answer is yes there is. It’s called the Health Care Consent Act, which states that I have the right to consent or refuse medical treatments and that I can act as the decision-maker for my children. Except when it comes to putting erythromycin in my newborn babies eyes! The treatment is actually exempt from this act.
The implication of this exemption is down-right offensive. Erythromycin is applied to the eyes of newborns to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI) being passed from the mother since chlamydia and gonorrhoea can lead to neonatal ophthalmia (conjunctivitis or “pink eye”), which left untreated can cause blindness.
By forcing my child to receive a preventative treatment for an infection caused by an STI is to imply that I — and every pregnant woman in Ontario — have been exposed to an STI and given the option, we would choose to expose our babies to potential harm.
And to go a step further, in a statement released in 2015 by the Canadian Pediatric Society, the treatment itself is “of questionable efficacy.” The lead author, Dr. Noni MacDonald, was quoted as saying that almost 30 per cent of the gonorrhoea cases in Canada is resistant to erythromycin, so preemptively treating a potential infection with this antibiotic “probably doesn’t work.” Also, babies born to mothers with untreated chlamydia at the time of delivery only have a 50 per cent chance of infection, and the drops “are not effective against chlamydia,” said MacDonald in an interview with CBC. The society is instead recommending routine prenatal screenings and treatment.
The media has also been all over the very-concerning trend of antibiotic resistance — “Resistance to antibiotics is the new climate change” claimed a Globe and Mail editorial published in January of this year. Every exposure we have to antibiotics leads to change in our bacteria. We also begin to form an immunity to antibiotics which makes infections harder to treat when treatment really is needed. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that forcefully exposing millions of newborn babies to an antibiotic — that is most likely not necessary and “probably doesn’t work” — is not the best idea? At this point in our history, exposure to antibiotics should be extremely limited, not legislated as mandatory within the first hour of life.
One Ontario midwife is leading the charge to take back our rights as parents. Supported by the Association of Ontario Midwives, Liza van de Hoef, a midwife with Quinte Midwives in Belleville, has created a grassroots campaign that includes postcards for supporters to mail to their local MPPs and a Facebook page (Eye Protest Ontario’s Law) to generate awareness. Liza also personally presented a petition with 1,400 signatures from 100 communities to a group of MPPs at Queen’s Park in November 2015.
Closer to home, local MPP Kathryn McGarry (Cambridge) has thrown her support behind the campaign on behalf of Cambridge Midwives in a letter addressed to Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, dated December 10.
Although ultimately changes must be made through the Provincial Infectious Disease Advisory Committee, it would seem that steps are being made in the right direction through education, awareness and advocacy. However, changes can’t come soon enough. With an estimated 400 babies being born every day in Ontario, we cannot afford to sit back and wait for changes to happen.
I’m writing this letter to you to compel you to get involved. Educate yourself on this issue and become an advocate for the future children of Ontario. Spread the word however you can — and it’s not too late to let your local MPP know how you feel.
Let’s be the voice for those who haven’t yet found theirs.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of The Holistic Parent magazine.