Editorial: Government must recognize the challenges of FASD

There is an inherent stigma that attaches to the medical condition known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) that must be solidly laid to rest if we are to build the political will that can force governments and their health agencies to put in place the supports needed to deal with one of the most insidious and pervasive, if largely invisible, health issues facing society.

We as a society must step past the “sins of the mothers” attitude that lies at the heart of society’s ongoing indifference, or willful ignorance, of the very real suffering inherent in FASD. Setting aside (although we should not) the societal forces that lie behind why a mother might consume alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding, including histories of lateral violence, abuse both mental and physical, mental health or the simple possibility of a young woman not realizing that a now baby lies within her womb, it cannot be in any way supported that these are the fault of the unborn.

As a society, including many if not most health officials down through the generations, we have gone so far as to encourage moderate consumption of alcohol in order to “build up a mother’s milk” or to offset the many ailments that can beset a gestating mother. Today we are aware, or most certainly should be, that no amount of alcohol can be safely consumed while pregnant. Too many anecdotal assurances of “it never hurt anyone in my day” given to young expectant mothers who are looking to their elders for support and advice still resound across the land—assurances given with the total assurance and vehemence that seems to be the special preserve of the blissfully ignorant.

As an invisible, and incurable, medical condition FASD is far too easy for us to ignore, but like autism, another invisible medical condition that besets out society it should not and cannot be ignored if we are to build a just and civil society. Cries that dealing with these issues are “too expensive” and “beyond our means to solve” cloak a callous and mean-spirited approach to public weal that has been far too common in our society of late.

Governments reap a vast harvest of funds from the public’s seemingly insatiable thirst for alcoholic beverages through taxes and, in Ontario, the public agency licenced to sell most of the liquor that floods our social interactions. As the purveyors of what previous generations, and certainly more than a few of the current generation, label as a poison, there is a moral duty on the part of society and the governments we elect to do their utmost to ameliorate the suffering of those afflicted with the effects of that poison.

The cost to society is already there, in the overflowing cells of our prisons, in the mental health wards of our hospitals and in the streets and alleyways of every single one of our urban and rural centres. We will pay the price one way or the other. It is just a more humane, civil and just approach to tackle the problem at its core with education, supports for those beset by previous generations of alcohol abuse and misuse, and the elimination of those social ills that lead to the consumption of alcohol while pregnant.

The blame game is a waste of time, worse, it is a recipe for placing untold suffering upon the innocent, even as we reap the harvest inherent in the very cause of that suffering.

It is time to stop blaming and start caring, because although the nay-sayers and pessimists will counsel against doing the right thing claiming that it is “too expensive” and “beyond our means,” ours is not a civilization that has advanced to the heights it has risen today by accepting that it can’t be done. We need only the will to find the way.