Canadian Infanticide Legislation, 1948 and 1955: Reflections on the Medicalization/Autopoiesis Debate

Kirsten Kathleen Kramar, William Dean Watson


This article provides a sociological analysis of the discursive interpretations of the criminal law mitigation frameworks underpinning infanticide law in England and Canada. The passage of infanticide legislation by the Canadian Parliament in 1948 and 1955 is described. The account is contrasted with Tony Ward’s analysis of the passage of English legislation in 1922 and 1938. The Canadian legislation of 1948 was based on the English Infanticide Act of 1922. Ward claims that his account shows that, despite obvious appearances and the views of socio-legal commentators writing during the 1980s and ’90s, infanticide law is not an example of the medicalization of women’s deviance but, if anything, more closely exemplifies law as an autopoietic system of communication which “enslaves” medical concepts, adapting them for its own strictly legal purposes. We argue that, while Ward’s critique of the medicalization interpretation of infanticide law is broadly apposite, autopoiesis theory provides an overwrought alternative. This is especially true for the Canadian legislation.


Autopoiesis; Medicalization; Infanticide

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