Bioethics Blogs

Foetal alcohol syndrome, compensation and harm

A case currently before the UK Court of Appeal could have far-reaching implications for mothers who drink during pregnancy.  Lawyers for a seven-year-old child with foetal alcohol syndrome caused by her mother’s heavy drinking, argue she should receive compensation from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as she has been the victim of a crime.

One relevant consideration to this case could be the nature of the harm suffered by individuals with foetal alcohol syndrome. Foetal alcohol syndrome is at the severe end of a continuum of disorders that are caused by in-utero exposure to alcohol, collectively known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). FASD cause impairments including developmental delays, difficulty hearing, problems with vision, learning problems, language and speech deficits, impulsiveness, a short attention span and difficulties making rational decisions. Intuitively, then, it seems children with FASD have been harmed in an obvious way by their mother’s drinking. A recent article puts it this way:

The child born with FAS or FASD is arguably deprived of a right to an open future because of harm suffered as a consequence of maternal behaviours…..It seems logical and morally appropriate to afford some protection to the future welfare of the child who will be born. If children could be given the option to exist with or without the consequences of FAS, it is likely they would choose the latter.”

However this picture could be challenged. It is not immediately clear that children with FASD could ever be given “the option to exist with or without the consequences” of FASD.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.