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One More Thing, On Drugs and Babies

May 19, 2009

Remember when we were talking over at B’s about news coverage on a woman whose baby died, and she had been a drug user, and was going to be criminally charged and nobody in the local media had the curiosity or follow-through to actually write at that time about how that works or even whether it was known that drugs were associated with the baby’s later death?

The Tennessean now has more detail on the topic and how things like this work in the state. Let me draw your attention to this:

Under Tennessee statute, there’s a fine line between a mother who gets help for her addiction and one who gets criminally charged.

The process starts with whether the doctor or nurse who sees a drug-using expectant mother reports her to police or the Department of Children’s Services. There’s no standard policy on that, according to the Tennessee Hospital Association.

If they decide to report her, a team made up of members from various government agencies evaluates her case. The law allows for mothers to be criminally liable for assault, aggravated assault or reckless endangerment by putting the fetus in imminent danger, according to a May 2008 state attorney general’s opinion.

Yeah, there’s no room for abuse there, especially of vulnerable populations who have historically been subject to increased scrutiny of their reproduction, is there? No room for people’s biases about crack vs. cocaine and people of one color vs. another, huh? Grr.

I’m happy that someone from MPOW said this:

Such prosecutions are a waste of time and typically a lose-lose situation for mother and baby, said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at VUMC.

“Prosecution does not deter drug use,” Clayton said. “There is nothing to be gained by the child, the mother or the prosecution.”

There is no arguing drugs are bad for the fetus, but Clayton said many studies show the effects on newborns are much less adverse than originally thought.

“We know cocaine and amphetamines are not benign,” she said. “Certainly, it’s not as harmful as it’s been cracked up to be. Alcohol does much worse, so does smoking. I think the vision is that these babies are coming out profoundly impaired and addicted. They are not.”

This is apparently one area where people interested in the protection of women from unfair practices can agree with others with whom they might not usually align – Tennessee Right to Life apparently doesn’t favor prosecution either, and a rep for them said, “It’s far less important to take these cases to trial. The woman who lost her child … she has already received her punishment for the rest of her life” – although I’m sure we can have some discussion about the use of the word “punishment.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 22, 2009 8:04 pm

    Arresting a drug addicted mother is ridiculous. Really. I can not see what good it would do. I have worked in inner city NICU’s for 16 years, and have seen and dealt with a lot. You are right in that drug testing mom’s can be based on personal opinion, and not evidence. Should we drug test all pregnant women to remove any bias? Don’t think so. The purpose in my view of drug testing is to monitor any adverse effects these drugs would have on the baby. It is part of the health history. Cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, can have minimal effects on the fetus, although these effects are dose dependent. Cocaine can cause placental abruptions which could lead to fetal and maternal death. Cigarettes can cause growth restriction and an prevalence for reactive airway disease later in life. Alcohol abuse is devastating to a fetus. Opiates are agonizing. Watching a baby go through methadone/heroin withdrawal can make you lose all faith in humanity. These things are not benign. These mom’s need help, and so do the babies. What can we do?
    (I wrote a brief post on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) on my site. Here is the post if you are interested:

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