Canadian Medical Association Journal comes out against spanking

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) came out against using spanking as a form of discipline. In “Positive parenting, not physical punishment,” published on Sept. 4, editor-in-chief John Fletcher writes that “it is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book.” According to the editorial, 50 per cent of parents currently spank toddlers, a 40 per cent decrease from the rate among parents of Fletcher’s generation.

Fletcher purports to examine not if spanking is morally right, but if it is effective. Using a 2012 meta-analysis by Joan Durrant and Ron Ensom published in the CMAJ, the editorial cites multiple studies that suggest that “the physical punishment of children is associated with increased levels of child aggression and is no better at eliciting compliance than other methods.” Studies also purport spanking causes negative effects on adult behaviour, such as depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and substance abuse.

Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, told The Interim that the analysis should not be used to support Fletcher`s conclusion. Quist said the meta-analysis the CMAJ editorial drew on to make its recommendations about spanking was flawed because it put child abuse and spanking into the same category: “It’s like trying to compare a second-hand car to a racing car…they are both very different things.”

Brian Rushfeldt, president of Canada FamilyAction, was also critical of the CMAJ editorial. He told LifeSiteNews that the journal and Fletcher did not provide balance, cherry-picked their studies to prove their point, and equated “postive parenting” with not spanking instead of proving that the two were correlated. Rushfeld said: “The CMA Journal piece uses the term ‘positive parenting’ but never cites what that means, except anti-spanking rhetoric,” Rushfeldt told LifeSiteNews.

Rushfeldt also said “the author states that law enforcement officers, under current law, have the discretion to decide when assault has occurred, so what is to be accomplished by banning spanking?” Rushfeldt questioned where “state interference with parenting” would end.

Fletcher summarily dismisses the viewpoint that spanking is effective when practiced sparingly. “This is possible, but it has always struck me that people using this line of reasoning in the face of clear evidence of harm are really trying to justify their actions, rather than face the possibility that they might be wrong,” he writes.

To eliminate spanking, “parents need to be re-educated” so that they know of “better ways” to discipline their children. Fletcher also wants to change the law so that spanking is discouraged. This would mean altering section 43 of the Criminal Code, which states, “… a parent is justified in using force by way of correction … if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.” Fletcher comments, “To have a specific code excusing parents is to suggest that assault by a parent is a normal and accepted part of bringing up children.”

Canada, however, already regulates the practice. According to a 2004 court decision, only children between 2 and 12 years old may be spanked and “discipline by the use of objects or blows or slaps to the head is unreasonable.”

“There is a distinct difference between assault and discipline,” the IMFC’s Dave Quist, told the National Post. Quist said spanking is a necessary part of the disciplinary “tool kit.”

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