It was reported last week that a council had brought a case against a girl who drank heavily during her pregnancy causing her baby to be born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. It has accused the girl of attempted manslaughter. If this case is successful the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority would pay out a sum [since the girl has no savings] which would help pay for costs for the child. It would also mean that pregnant women would be held responsible for the care of their unborn children. Several ethical issues are raised by this case.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome results in malformations and brain damage which occurs mainly before 24 weeks. Present UK law states that the foetus only acquires ‘personhood’ [becomes an acknowledged person] when likely to be capable of independent life outside the womb, presently defined as 24 weeks.
The girl in question was 17 when she gave birth. She was a clearly troubled and vulnerable teenager. Pregnant mothers such as addicts may be put off seeking help from authorities if a punitive attitude is taken and this would probably cause more harm than good in the long run.
One could easily visualise that a successful ruling could lead to a slippery slope in which pregnant mothers that smoke or take risks such as horse riding could be prosecuted if their children are harmed by their actions. It is hard to see how the council could win this case if it does it would represent a major change in how society sees pregnant women.