SINGAPORE: Parents who have experienced the profound loss of a stillborn child may soon find solace in a potential legislative change. A proposed amendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021, known as the Stillbirths and Births (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, is under consideration in Parliament. If approved, this bill allows parents to register their stillborn child within one year of delivery.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has highlighted the emotional significance of this amendment. The MHA emphasizes that this step recognises the emotional pain experienced by parents during stillbirths, equating it with the loss of any child. The aim is to provide support to bereaved parents in their time of grief.

This legislative initiative has been prompted by a petition initiated by Ms Mandy Too, who experienced the stillbirth of her twins, Abigail and Lara, two years ago. The online petition, which has garnered over 2,800 signatures, has brought to light the issue of including stillborn children’s names in official documents, as reported by TODAY.

Ms Too and her husband, Aidan Hoy, have shared their painful experience of having their twins referred to as “stillborn female children” by the hospital, an experience that has resonated with many.

The proposed Bill introduces new provisions within the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021. If passed, parents can register a name for their stillborn child through the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) within a year of the delivery. Additionally, they can apply for a commemorative birth certificate that includes the stillborn child’s name for remembrance purposes through ICA’s website.

The conversation surrounding this legislative change has extended to the parliamentary level, with Associate Professor Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency, filing a parliamentary question about digital birth certificates for stillborn children.

In response to the parliamentary inquiry, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam explained the reasons behind the absence of official naming for stillborn children. He noted that names of stillborn children are not required for the government to administer public policies and programs, and the current automated registration process helps alleviate administrative burdens on grieving parents. However, Minister Shanmugam also hinted that implementing changes in the stillbirth registration process would necessitate further system adjustments, a matter that MHA would consider during the next policy and process review.

Stillborn Child Definition

The proposed amendments resulting from MHA’s review initiated on Nov 7, 2023, will see the definition of a stillborn child revised, extending from 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. This aligns with the cut-off timing for abortions under the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1974, which allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The 22-week threshold for stillbirth has raised concerns about potential misinterpretations, although it was not intended to indicate foetal viability. Feedback from the medical community suggested that this ambiguity could pressure medical practitioners to adopt more aggressive interventions for infants born between 22 and 24 weeks, potentially leading to higher rates of futile resuscitation attempts and severe neuro-developmental disabilities in surviving infants.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a review in 2018 in collaboration with local medical experts, revealing survival rates for premature babies born at 24 weeks of approximately 50%, while it was around 20% for those born at 23 weeks. Out of 13 premature babies born at 23 weeks, only six survived to discharge, all of whom suffered from severe medical issues. MOH pointed out that these neonatal conditions often lead to neurodevelopmental disabilities, necessitating lifelong medical treatment and reducing life expectancy.

The proposed amendments aim to eliminate confusion regarding foetal viability and underscore that abortions are not counted as stillbirths. Moreover, the definition of a stillborn child in the Income Tax Act 1947 will be adjusted to align with the proposed amendments for the purposes of administering tax benefits.