Should mums-to-be who drink be branded criminals?
A landmark case addressing this question is currently under way in Britain.
Lawyers for a seven-year-old child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, argue the child should receive compensation from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as this child has been the victim of a crime.
In this case the mother is alleged to have drunk heavily during pregnancy, despite warnings that this might harm her unborn child.
For compensation to be awarded, the court must agree that the mother’s actions were criminal.
Foetal alcohol syndrome is one of a group of conditions (the foetal alcohol spectrum disorders) that may result from alcohol use in pregnancy.
Alcohol is toxic to the brain and other organs of the unborn child.
Children born with foetal alcohol syndrome have abnormal facial features and poor growth, and may also have a range of birth defects.
Children also have problems with learning, behaviour and physical development, including problems with speech, language and academic achievement.
Pioneering research on alcohol use in pregnancy and FASD is being conducted in remote Australia.
It shows many mothers did not understand the damage that alcohol could cause to their unborn child.
Drinking during pregnancy is not restricted to disadvantaged populations but occurs across the whole of Australia.
Results have indicated it’s not just problem drinkers who risk harm to their unborn child.
Because researchers cannot say how much alcohol consumption is safe doctors advise that the safest option is to abstain from alcohol if pregnant or planning a pregnancy.
The Commonwealth Department of Health has announced funding of more than $9 million for a national strategy.
This strategy includes formation of a National FASD Technical Network that will help prioritise ways to stop alcohol use in pregnancy and FASD.
A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has identified strategies to fill the gaps in information about the incidence and prevalence of FASD in Australia.
Elizabeth Elliott from the University of Sydney Medical School, chairs the Government’s new National FASD Technical Network. Jane Latimer, from The George Institute for Global Health and The University of Sydney, is a research fellow and physiotherapist.