NOFAS Rejects Classifying FASD as a “Criminal Injury”

Update: December 8, 2014:

The case has been resolved.  NOFAS agrees with the ruling by a United Kingdom Court of Appeal that a crime victim’s compensation fund is not the appropriate resource for supporting an individual with an FASD.

Original Statement, November 10, 2014:

There is currently a court case in the United Kingdom that could lead to the criminalization of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.  As explained in the NOFAS statement, NOFAS Opposes Criminalizing Alcohol Use by Pregnant Women NOFAS opposes any law or policy that would impose a criminal penalty on the act of drinking alcohol while pregnant.

The U.K. Court of Appeal will decide late in November 2014 whether a seven-year-old girl with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is recognized as a victim of a crime because her birth mother exposed her to alcohol in utero, therefore entitling the child to a payout from the government-funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.  NOFAS believes the court should rule against finding the girl or any individual with an FASD a victim of a crime.

NOFAS strongly empathizes with the families of children with FASD and their need for services. NOFAS advocates for the inclusion of FASD in the eligibility criteria for disability and other benefits globally and urges government at all levels to invest in interventions and direct assistance to individuals with an FASD.   However, NOFAS does not support the premise that an individual with an FASD is a victim of a crime and, therefore, does not support any form of compensation that has the effect of criminalizing alcohol use during pregnancy.

In this particular case, the U.K. authority is arguing that the mother’s alcohol use constitutes the crime of poisoning. While not a criminal act, any amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy is in fact toxic to a developing baby. Society can prevent alcohol use during pregnancy through public health approaches, not punishment.

A punitive approach can actually have the unintended result of increasing alcohol use by pregnant women, since some women with an alcohol dependence or who may have difficulty abstaining from alcohol may be inhibited from speaking openly with their doctor or social worker about their alcohol use out of fear of facing criminal sanction or being stigmatized.

This case is further complicated by the fact that official U.K. Government warnings state that some alcohol use is acceptable during pregnancy, a position opposed by NOFAS.  The U.K. Department of Health advises women to consume no more than one glass of wine (two “units” of alcohol) up to twice a week.

Worldwide, women must be educated about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy and when necessary must be provided access to therapeutic alcohol rehabilitative services, and individuals with an FASD of any age must be eligible for public and private resources necessary to thrive and lead a fulfilling life.