In what looks like being an unprecedented case, a north-western UK local authority – which for legal reasons cannot be named – is taking a woman to court to demonstrate that, by her having drunk alcohol during her pregnancy, she committed a crime by causing the child to be born with foetal alcohol syndrome .
They maintain that, under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861, the now six-year old girl is now entitled to compensation for the damage caused to her health – which will influence her entire life – and by doing so are quite possibly taking the first step in criminalising certain behaviours for pregnant women, something that is causing outrage among women’s rights groups.
So much so that both the legal charity Birthrights and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have applied to address the court, concerned that a ruling in favour of the child could undermine the freedom to make life decisions for themselves during pregnancy for any woman, and of course point the way to a possible rash of such actions against mothers of babies born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder”.
Any such ruling would by default, they argue treat pregnant women differently and threaten their fundamental right in life to make decisions, plus it would almost inevitably deter women needing support from seeking help during pregnancy. On top of that, any such decision would place undue pressure on health professionals to report to the police women suspected of drinking.
This is really a test case, in which an earlier tribunal hearing had ruled the child to have been was victim of a crime, as the judge, Howard Levenson, had ruled that a poison or other destructive or noxious thing, which would inflict grievous bodily harm had been administered.
This was of course appealed against by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, the administrative appeals chamber overturning the verdict on the basis that an unborn child cannot be deemed to be a person. As such, the excessively drunken mother never got convicted, so the case is now set to go the court of appeal sometime soon.
There is no doubt whatever that Foetal alcohol syndrome can cause retarded growth, facial abnormalities and intellectual impairment, and is seen as a is a complex condition. It certainly affects sufferers in that they have learning difficulties and difficulty in social situations through what is referred to as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Nor is this syndrome common at all, though it is increasing in incidence over recent times, there having been over 250 cases reported in 2012/13, suggesting that alcohol abuse among pregnant women is on the increase nationally. There are many very worried bodies awaiting the outcome of this court hearing, simply because they fear for the fundamental right of women to choose how they live their lives.
As things stand, Department of Health advice is that that alcohol should be avoided in pregnancy altogether, though the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence take the view that being alcohol free for the first trimester is the best way. Women should be free to choose, without a doubt, but what choice is being given to the developing children within their wombs, if they do choose to drink? This is a debate that shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.
English: Baby with the FAS-syndrome. Deutsch: Baby mit Fetalem Alkoholsyndrom. Charakteristika: Vergleichsweise kleine Augen mit schmalen, teils herabhängenden Augenlidern, schmales (Ober-) Lippenrot und wenig modulierte, flache oder fehlende Mittelrinne (Philtrum) zwischen Nase und Oberlippe und dünne Oberlippe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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