Government owes a duty of care for FASD sufferers

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the proverbial visitation of the sins of the parent being visited upon the children, in this case bringing physical and mental impairments that far more often lead to prison than to any accommodation or support for the afflicted or their caregivers. As Noojmowin Teg’s Melanie Francis points out, getting diagnosed can take years, but even after that diagnosis has finally been secured, there is little in the way of tools or supports offered up by our health or social service agencies. The fallback is all too often the penal system instead.

Ontarians are justly proud of the success of the province’s liquor control board, polls repeatedly show that we have come to embrace our beloved LCBO and the revenues that Crown agency annually pours into the government’s cup. But that liquor-derived lucre comes at social and medical costs that the government’s efforts to date have fallen far short of adequately ameliorating.

Since we as a society have chosen to profit handsomely from the distribution and sale of alcohol, largely through a government-run monopoly (at least where liquor is concerned), there is an inherent duty to offset the negative impacts of that product on both society itself and the individuals within that society whose lives have been upended through that product’s side effects.

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That is not currently the case.

Children afflicted by FASD, a disorder whose debilitating impacts are directly and inextricably linked to alcohol, deserve better. So do the social workers, caregivers, front line workers and enforcement officers that must deal with the fallout and impact of the behaviours that stem from a brain disorder that is almost entirely preventable.

There is no defence in the suggestion that FASD is caused by the consumption of alcohol by a mother during pregnancy. For generations mothers have been told that drinking beer assists in milk production, that a glass or two of wine is good for you, that tinctures of alcohol are the bomb for dealing with infant colic—overturning such misguided age-old “wisdom” does not happen overnight, especially when it runs counter to the prevailing winds of what is otherwise socially acceptable behaviour.

At the end of the day, this is not a child’s fault. Newborn babies do not seek the lifelong struggle that FASD saddles them with.

We have supports in place for children who are born deaf. We have supports in place for children who are born blind, or without limbs, or with a host of other defects that stem from things a child has no control over. Children with FASD do not deserve to be swept under the carpet and the host of educators, caregivers and frontline workers should not have to deal unsupported with the impact of FASD.

Just because a physical disorder is largely invisible does not mean that we can blithely go on with our lives and justify ignoring its impact on the innocent. There will be a cost, but when there is so much profit, it is unconscionable that we choose to not pay the piper.