Saturday, 8 November 2014

The gestation of intolerance

This week there has been a sad story in the media about a case in which the Court of Appeal has been asked to rule whether a woman who drank heavily during pregnancy, causing her child to suffer from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, has committed a criminal act. The motivation seems be that the local council is trying to pass on the care costs to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, but it seems to involve the unnecessary stigmatisation of an unfortunate person. The woman in question was apparently drinking half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of “strong” lager a day, which makes her a full-blown alcoholic. Someone in that position is an addict who is no position to make a rational decision as to whether to drink or not, and surely they need help rather than prosecution.

The case also has wider implications. It has long been recognised that excessive alcohol consumption in pregnancy is likely to be damaging to unborn children, but medical experts have accepted that a couple of drinks a week is not going to be harmful. And that figure is probably erring very much on the side of caution. That always used to be the official advice, but a few years ago it was changed to drink nothing during pregnancy, not because the science had changed, but because that was felt to be a more simple and unequivocal message. This was strongly attacked by Guardian columnist Zoe Williams (not someone I usually find much to agree with):

To think this government has the brass neck to lecture women about their gestational behaviour. It is an outrage against women; against the relationship between the state and the individual; and, without wishing to be mawkish, against babies.
(By the way, she is referring to the last government, not the present one)

If the case succeeds it has been widely suggested that the principle will be enshrined in law that expectant mothers should not consume anything potentially harmful to their unborn babies. So they won’t be able to drink at all. Or to smoke, or to eat “unhealthy” foods. Now doing all of these things while pregnant may not be a good idea, but is it really appropriate for government to take away all personal responsibility on the matter and legislate to take control of women’s bodies?

This tendency is attacked by Simon Jenkins in this article in which he criticises “the mob craving to bring coercive law into every realm of human behaviour”. Some years ago the same author made the point in an article (now behind the Murdoch paywall) that the gap between the ideal and the illegal was steadily narrowing.

Voltaire and John Stuart Mill insisted there should be an ideological chasm between disapproving an act and wanting it halted. In modern Britain this chasm has become a skip and a jump. Whatever we dislike we require the government to ban...

...There is a case for educating the public to eat, drink and smoke less, drive more carefully and not to rampage through town centres at night. But there must be a limit to the translation of disapproval into repression.

And possibly all those so-called defenders of women’s rights who have been getting their knickers in a twist over a laddish marketing campaign by Lees Brewery would be better employed speaking up against such a gross invasion of female self-ownership.


  1. Half a bottle of Vodka and 8 cans of 'strong' lager a day? No bloody chance! She'd be in A&E before a week is out. What a load of bollocks.

    I've been married twice with 4 kids. I smoke and drink and my ex wife and present wife smoked and drank (not excessively) in pregnancy. The eldest child is a teacher with 2 children. the next now has an M.Chem 1st and the next just commenced Uni.

    Yes, we're criminals as well as infertile. Again ,what complete bollocks.

    1. All health advice must now base itself on your empirical evidence. No doubt your gran smoked and drank till she was 90.

  2. I suspect the "strong lager" being referred to is Stella, not Special Brew. Even so, you have to wonder where a 17-yo would get the money from.

  3. What a sham ,outrage and grasping lawyers because a woman excercises her choice to drink
    during pregnancy yet applause and universal support if she wants to
    destroy the foetus(Termination/Abortion)
    Just how sick has this nation become

    PS For those who wonder where the
    money comes from to maintain the
    health freaks/puritans/lobby groups/funded campaigns and media "sweeteners"

    Johnson & Johnson Pharma $17.5 BILLION
    Pfizer Pharma $11.4 BILLION
    Astra Zeneca Pharma $7.3 BILLION
    What they spend annually on

    We all know where some of that
    trough cash ends up,dont we?


  4. A bigger feminist issue than beer commercials? Though one taking more than twitter outrage and retweets to get results, I would guess.

  5. I think we should have some anti-JW Lees t-shirts knocked up in sweatshirts and photograph ourselves wearing them.

  6. Or sweatshops, maybe...

    Although further investigation showed that 62p/hour is actually a decent wage in the context of the economy of Mauritius.

  7. Have you been drinking, Oliver?

  8. I always cautioned my wife against drinking when she was pregnant.
    But only because I knew for 9 months the dopey mare would always be on call to drive me home when I was pissed.
    But actually I didn't need to because she,like most people in her situation,exercised common sense.
    So the moment she got the blue line test to say she was up the spout until the moment each of the two sprogs popped out she gave up the fags and the booze ( apart from a daily bottle of Guinness for " essential iron and nutrients. " )

    And then went right back to smoking and drinking with a vengeance.

    Of course you can't expect Wayne and Waynetta to be quite so sensible but forcing them by law not to imbibe ?

    Fact is Wayne and Waynetta Junior are going to turn out just as thick as their parents,whatever stimulants go through them in the womb.

  9. Martin, Cambridge9 November 2014 at 09:21

    The real issue here us the waste of public funds spent shifting a burden between government departments.

    Personally, I blame my wife's pregnancy diet of Thai duck curry, rather than the odd half of Broadside, for their appalling musical taste.

  10. "And possibly all those so-called defenders of women’s rights who have been getting their knickers in a twist over a laddish marketing campaign by Lees Brewery would be better employed speaking up against such a gross invasion of female self-ownership."

    Of course you're right; we can only be outraged by one thing at a time so it's good to prioritise.


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