State intervention in pregnancy: Should the law respond thus to the problem of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

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Maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy poses a serious threat to the life and health of unborn children. A submission to the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry proposed that the State's Child Protection Act be extended to allow intervention to protect unborn children, with a court empowered to order that the mother be taken into care pending birth, or otherwise impose conditions upon conduct. This article considers whether or not the law in Australia should respond to the problem of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder by allowing the involuntary treatment and detention of pregnant women. The focus, is upon intervention in response to existing pregnancies. Using a utilitarian critical framework, this article evaluates the merits of creating powers to compel treatment and detain in light of current legal principles relating to maternal autonomy and the legal position of the foetus. The common law position is considered, as well as current legislation allowing intervention in autonomous decision-making and whether or not these statutes may be enlivened to prevent foetal harm. This article suggests that permitting involuntary treatment and detention would be a significant policy change. It weighs up benefits and potential harms in considering whether or not such action would result in the most "good".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-188
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of law and medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • Law


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