Drinking during Pregnancy

Mar 6, 2014 by

Many of us have heard of, or come across, foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and the way it effects brain development of a baby. It was discovered by two doctors in the United States in 1973 and the seriousness of the condition is directly related to the amount of alcohol the mother drinks during pregnancy.

Quoting from the drinkaware.co.uk website children with FAS had distinct facial features including small and narrow eyes, small head and a variety of other problems depending on the seriousness, including a weak immune system, epilepsy, liver damage, cerebral palsy and hormonal disorders among others.

For the first time in the UK in the north of England a local authority has brought a law suit against the criminal authority compensation board claiming that a mother who ignored warnings from anti-natal medical staff and social workers about her heavy drinking risked serious harm to her child. The law suit maintains that the mothers action constituted a crime of poisoning under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

An article in the Guardian goes on to explain that the mother is no longer in contact with the child – who has suffered developmental problems.

An interesting part of the process here was that the authority won its claim initially but that was reversed by a later hearing on the grounds that an unborn child is not a person in law and therefore no criminal offence could have been committed.

Inevitably this matter has polarised the community and there are calls for mothers who drink excessively during pregnancy to be prosecuted as already some US states have made it a criminal offence.

This could create a president for all sorts of challenges – I’m thinking about smoking or other substance misuse while a mother is pregnant.

The Guardian article concludes by saying that the case could give a president with far reaching implication of the control a mother has over her body and whether a foetus has legal rights before birth. It’s expected to take some considerable time before this comes to court.

It’s interesting to see how far this may be taken. Could it possibly be, like drink driving, that limits are decided and pregnant women can be legally stopped and breathalysed.

I’d be interested to hear your opinions.

I discussed this with Faye Dicker on her podcasts and on my ‘Thoughts on the Social World‘ podcast

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