Stillborn children may have their names officially registered under proposed legislation

Photo of baby’s feet for illustration purpose only. Photo: Janko Ferlič via Unsplash
Photo of baby’s feet for illustration purpose only. Photo: Janko Ferlič via Unsplash

In a significant move to acknowledge the profound grief experienced by parents of stillborn infants, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has introduced the “Stillbirths and Births (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill” to Parliament. The proposed bill, if passed, would enable parents to officially register their stillborn child’s name within a year of delivery.

The MHA emphasized that stillbirths can be an excruciating experience for parents, akin to the loss of any child. By allowing parents the opportunity to name their stillborn children, the government aims to provide some solace to bereaved families coping with this heart-wrenching experience.

The bill seeks to amend the existing Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021, which governs the registration of births, deaths, and stillbirths in Singapore. Under the proposed legislation, parents wishing to register a name for a stillborn child would be able to do so through the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) within a year of the delivery.

Furthermore, parents can apply for a commemorative birth certificate reflecting the stillborn child’s name for remembrance purposes via ICA’s website, even before the new provisions come into effect, pending approval.

The initiative to include stillborn children’s names on official documents gained momentum through an online petition initiated by Mandy Too, who tragically experienced the stillbirth of her twins, Abigail and Lara, two years ago. The petition garnered over 2,800 signatures since it started in April this year.

Too and her husband, Aidan Hoy, shared their story with Channel News Asia last month, explaining their desire to have their twins’ names included in their stillbirth notification documents, which had previously referred to them as “stillborn female child.”

The couple corresponded with Associate Professor Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency, who inquired about the possibility of designating names for stillborn children. Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam, previously stated that official naming of stillborn children was not required for government administration and was intended to minimize administrative burdens on grieving parents.

However, the MHA announced that it began reviewing the issue in September 2022, leading to the proposed amendments. The redefined definition of a stillborn child, now at 24 weeks of pregnancy, aligns with the cut-off timing for abortions under the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1974.

While the MHA clarified that the previous 22-week threshold was not related to fetal viability, it was susceptible to misinterpretation. Feedback from the medical community indicated that this ambiguity could put pressure on medical practitioners to attempt resuscitation for infants born between 22 and 24 weeks, potentially leading to severe neurodevelopmental disabilities.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) conducted a review in 2018, revealing that the survival rate for premature babies born at 24 weeks was approximately 50 percent, whereas it was only around 20 percent for those born at 23 weeks. Of the 13 premature babies born at 23 weeks, only six survived, but they suffered from severe health problems.

The proposed bill also includes other miscellaneous changes to the definition of a stillborn child in the Income Tax Act 1947 to align with amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 2021, if approved.

The MHA anticipates the new definition of a stillborn child to come into force in 2024, with the official registration of stillborn children likely taking effect in approximately two years. In the interim, parents can apply for commemorative birth certificates that reflect their stillborn child’s name.

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