Reclaim 'Death Midwife' in Canada

$2,520 of $7,000 goal

Raised by 32 people in 10 months
The Problem

This dual role of midwives lasted till the early 20th century, when midwifery almost disappeared.   Then later in that century both parts of the dual role were revived separately.

After the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a series of interviews  on "DIY Funerals" in 2016, Pashta MaryMoon and other Canadian 'death midwives' received 'cease and desist' letters  threatening legal action and forbidding use of the term 'death midwife' — in Pashta's case, coming from the College of Midwives of British Columbia (CMBC) and the Canadian Midwifery Regulatory Council (CMRC).  

Most of the Canadian death midwives chose to comply, for personal or professional reasons.  Pashta decided that she couldn’t in good faith obey this request. Now the CMBC is going to court to get an injunction to stop her from using the word "midwife" or any variation.  Though it seems unlikely to happen, the petition for the injunction also made a mention of the possibility of jail time.   Nevertheless, she felt a personal obligation to fight the injunction in court.

Although some of her work is for pay, a great deal of Pashta's time and energy goes into pro bono death-midwifery work, including education and running CINDEA.   She has found an enthusiastic lawyer who is willing to do the legal work for a reduced fee, however he is not able to do it for free.


The Nitty-Gritty Details (skip this part if you wish)
Historical evidence shows that for thousands of years, the role of a midwife — whether or not the word ‘midwife’ was used — included deathcare.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, this dual role was split between the domain of obstetrics and the funeral industry.  Birth midwifery was revived in the mid-to-late 20th century, with death midwifery following about two decades later.

According to the letter of the law, in BC and most other provinces, the word 'midwife' itself  is a reserved title to be used exclusively by birth midwives who are registered with their provincial college.  The legislation makes it clear that it was only intended to govern birth midwives; and there is no reference whatsoever in the law to death midwives, although this role and its name were beginning to be reclaimed before the legislation was passed.

The CMBC has claimed that the public might be confused between birth and death midwives, and could mistakenly assume that death midwives are 'professionals with membership in a regulatory body' (specifically the CMBC). They were concerned that either of these perceptions would present a 'danger to the public safety' — however, they have since removed these claims from their petition, presumably because there is no evidence of either situation happening.

The obvious solution, used by many other health professionals, is to add a qualifier — such as 'registered', 'licensed' or 'certified' midwife — since the average person recognizes these qualifiers as ones that indicate the person is 'a professional within a regulatory body.’  This distinction would contribute to the public safety (in particular, pregnant mothers) more than the present reserved-title status could.

In the long run, the most important issue is not that practitioners be allowed to use the term "death midwife" for themselves, but that there is a recognizable term for the public to find alternative deathcare options.


Pashta's Appeal — Support the Right to Use the Term ‘Death Midwife’
I’m seeking your help with my court challenge that will include two main requests:

1.      Addressing the unreasonable limits made on the use of 'midwife', as being arbitrary and overly broad in scope.  My lawyer and  I believe this is an issue of 'freedom of expression' as defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and yes, this is a Charter challenge. 

2.      An exemption to the BC Midwives Regulation which presently excludes the use of the term 'death midwives' — such as existing exemptions for systems engineers, who do not fall under the reserved title of "professional engineer".

I have collected $3,000 already, but my lawyer tells me the total, including court costs, may come to as much as $10,000.  Your donations will help to pay the lawyer and other legal fees, as well as any associated travel costs.

Please forward the link to this GoFundMe campaign to anyone who may be interested.  Also, even if you can't afford to donate, it would be helpful to me if you could share the link with your own social networks.

Thank you!

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Re ;'death midwife' case. We just went into the second round of submissions re the court case over the term 'death midwife'. Now three provincial bodies are involved -- College of Midwives (petitioner), College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the BC Attorney General. Hundreds of pages of documentation to go through. Half of CMBC's second submission is just repeats (again and again) from the first submission -- a very absolutist position, but with lack of evidence that their concerns are actually possible (confusion between birth and death midwives, mis-assumptions that DMs are registrants of the college). Unfortunately, my lawyer's and my submission is due the day that I leave for Comox to do a weekend long set of workshops (home funerals, Bedside Singing and death ceremonies); but we might be able to push that later -- as CBMC sent theirs in 11 days late.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons' submission -- surprisingly -- may be quite useful to us, as they do NOT consider their reserved titles (doctor, surgeon) to be absolute. Rather they distinguished between those with a reasonably possibility of being misleading (who they go after), and those which aren't -- the second group being terms like 'rug doctor' and 'tree surgeon', who they leave alone. This creates a certain degree of precedent for 'death midwife' being allowed to be used, despite the legislative exclusivity of the reserved title 'midwife'.

We also came across another possible precedent -- 'wet nurse' (which, of course, are not any kind of healthcare professional). Due to the research on the values of breastmilk (not just for infants -- but adults with certain kinds of health problems), the role of 'wet nurse' is on the rise; and they also have not been sent 'cease and desist' letters (at least to our knowledge -- certainly no media about it).

We don't get the BC Attorney General's submission until Oct 11th, and it may be critical re siding with the approach of CBMC or with CPSBC. And we also waiting for the anti-SLAPP bill (SLAPP strategic lawsuit against public participation -- not necessarily meant to win at trial, but rather use the legal process to silence and intimidate opponents.) to come into force (expected this fall) -- as there is a chance that we/I could qualify to have this case declared a SLAPP injunction.

So lots of work to do, and dragging myself through all of the repetition and legalese -- and so thankful that my CINDEA buddy (and best friend) has the background to understand this definitely non-common-speak language!!!!
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Hi folks who has supported this campaign,

We are now on a second round of affidavits -- although still waiting for confirmation of the new schedule (i.e. when various documents need to be submitted). The Canadian Attorney General stated that they did not need to be involved, but the BC Attorney General will be -- and will be submitting a statement, re Charter of Rights issues. We are now looking at a court hearing in Vancouver probably sometime in November.
As time goes on, we are finding more and more references to (or people referring to themselves) as various kinds of death-related 'midwives' -- although mostly elsewhere in the world. The latest is the UK's new role of 'bereavement midwife'!!!
As you might imagine, this case has become more complicated than either myself/lawyer and CMBC had expected. As a result, the costs are going to be higher than we expected! Please continue to share the campaign with any friends or acquaintances that might be interested.
Many many thanks!!!
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Hi supporters,
CMBC (college of midwives BC) have chosen to continue with the case -- there was some chance that they might drop it (which they could have done). It looks like they intend to supply more affidavits -- in response to the almost 100 documents (some multiple pages) of documentation that we gave in our response. Fair enough -- I suspect that they didn't expect such as broad and detailed response from us. However, this lengthens the process -- so it could be that the case won't go to court until the fall or winter.
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Hi Contributors -- May 8 We just finished the affidavit and exhibits today -- close to 300 pages of affidavits, statements and exhibits (supporting docs), and it all goes off to CMBC and the Canadian and BC Attorney Generals. I will let you know when the court date is. Blessings to all of you
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