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Ethical challenges in FASD prevention: Scientific uncertainty, stigma, and respect for women's autonomy

Natalie Zizzo, Eric Racine

Abstract


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a leading form of neurodevelopmental delay in Canada, affecting an estimated 3000 babies per year. FASD involves a range of disabilities that entail significant costs to affected individuals, families, and society. Exposure to alcohol in utero is a necessary factor for FASD development, and this has led to FASD being described as “completely preventable”. However, there are significant ethical challenges associated with FASD prevention. These challenges revolve around 1) what should be communicated about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, given some ongoing scientific uncertainty about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, and 2) how to communicate these risks, given the potential for stigma against women who give birth to children with FASD as well as against children and adults with FASD. In this paper, we share initial thoughts on how primary care physicians can tackle this complex challenge. First, we recommend honest disclosure of scientific evidence to women and the tailoring of information offered to pregnant women. Second, we propose a contextualized, patient-centred, compassionate approach to ensure that appropriate advice is given to patients in a supportive, non-stigmatizing way.


Keywords


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; ethics; women’s health; preventive health services; personal autonomy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.108.6048