Brian Burtch (1994) reviews the efforts of Canadian midwives to establish midwifery as a respected occupation in his Trials of Labour: The Re-emergence of Midwifery. The book outlines key historical developments shaping the destiny of Canadian midwifery, challenges by midwives to the negative labels applied to them, resources used by midwives to advance their cause, and arguments for and against the legalization of midwifery in Canada. Each of these aspects will be examined in an effort to yield a comprehensive view of the midwifery issue in historical and modern Canada.
Midwives have at various times in their past been virtually outlawed out of existence, yet they have managed to have some staying power in spite of opposition from the organized medical community. Their history has been one of ups and downs; in times of need, as in the case of rural, sparsely populated areas, midwives were a welcome necessity. In more modern times, as population increased and society became more concentrated in urban areas, midwives were replaced by a burgeoning health care system.
The 1795 Medical Act in Ontario prohibited midwives the practices of physic and surgery, yet in 1806, that decision was reversed to even allow midwives to practice without a license. In the mid-nineteenth century, midwives were more favourably looked upon, as legislation from this period verifies. Three bills to regulate or exclude domestic midwifery practice were defeated between 1845 and 1851. "Nevertheless, medical influence was extended through the establishment of licensing powers, a system of registration, and medical education" (Burtch, 1994, p. 78). Organized medicine sought to protect its professional turf by alleging that midwives were practicing unsafely and without a license. The fact that a miniscule number of infant mortalities have ever been linked to midwifery was not relevant to the medical community.
With increasing, yet unfounded objecti...