Seven lawyers have told an appeals court in England that damage to an unborn baby caused by her mother’s alcohol consumption is equal to manslaughter. According to an article published in The Guardian, lawyers are seeking compensation on behalf of a girl born to a mother struggling with chemical dependency.
The legal counsel believes that the 7 year old girl is, “entitled to payments from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).” The case is cause for concern because authorities’ wonder whether the mother’s drinking is considered a criminal act. They also ask whether the child is recognized legally as an individual under the law during the time she suffered damage.
The Guardian reports that, “As many as 80 other claims on behalf of children suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are awaiting the outcome [of the trial.]”
For privacy reasons, the child has not been identified to the press. In proceedings, the court was informed that the mother intentionally dismissed advice to cease consumption of alcohol from social workers and medical staff.
The local authority has filed against CICA saying that the mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy is considered a crime of poisoning under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
The appeal court was told the history of the mother’s alcohol usage. She began drinking at the age of 13. By the age of 17 she was consuming alcohol each day. Counsel detailed a woman whose daily usage included marijuana, LSD, and amphetamines until her first pregnancy at 18. According to a social worker, the mother stopped consuming drugs and alcohol once she found out she was pregnant.
John Foy QC for the authority stated that, “[The pregnant mother] was drinking half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager daily. That amounts to 40-57 units of alcohol a day. The guidelines from [the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says] that 7.5 units may damage a fetus.”
The 7 year old does not have contact with the mother and has shown many signs of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS.) Officials report that she has developmental delays. Children who are born with FAS can exhibit signs of brain damage, craniofacial abnormalities, and wide set eyes.
For the initial hearing of this case the local authority won “but lost in the upper administrative tribunal on the grounds that the unborn child is not a person in law and therefore no criminal offence could have been committed,” The Guardian said.
The case has sparked a wide debate in England with many alleging that all women who drink during their pregnancy should be prosecuted. Others argue that the fetus has rights as well. As we previously reported, in the United States, Tennessee prosecutes any woman who uses drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy.
Representative for the local authority, Neil Sugarman from GLP Solicitors said, “This is not about the criminalization of women. It is about whether a fetus that is damaged in the womb, but goes on to be born with life-changing injuries, has been the victim of a crime within the strict definitions of the statutory Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.”
Chief Executive of Bpas, Ann Furedi, and co-chair of Birthrights, Rebecca Schiller, stated that: “Viewing these cases as potential criminal offences will do nothing for the health of women and their babies. There is a strong public interest in promoting the good health of pregnant women and babies, but, as longstanding government policy recognizes, this interest is best served by treating addiction and substance abuse in pregnancy as a public health, not criminal, issue.”
The judgment for this case is still pending.
New Directions for Women is a treatment facility located in California that offers help for alcohol dependency to women of all ages, pregnant women in any trimester, and women with children. Founded in 1977, our courageous and visionary founders asked for the help of Newport Beach Junior League members to fulfill their vision of a tranquil home-like facility that would treat women with dignity and respect. Our caring admissions counselors are available 24/7 to take your call and answer any questions you may have on getting help. As a pregnant mother suffering from addiction, you do not need to struggle in silence and shame. We can help you recover in any trimester of pregnancy. We work with OBGYNs that are skilled at working with pregnant female addicts. Reach us by phone at 800-93-WOMEN. We can help. Stay in the loop with New Directions for Women by connecting with us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.