February 29, 2016

Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome research stalled by fears of "racism"?

Brian GiesbrechtRebel Blogger

A deadly serious but almost invisible problem affects many thousands of children in Manitoba and across the country.

This problem is entirely preventable, yet we are afraid to take serious action to deal with it. This problem is one we should know more about, yet we are afraid to properly research it. This problem demands a national inquiry, yet we would rather not have to think about it.

The problem? Children born with malformed brains as a result of exposure to alcohol in the womb: fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS.

The symptoms of FAS can include both physical and mental problems. In some cases there are serious heart defects, children who cannot walk or talk, or even children who cannot eat and require tube-feeding.

But in the more usual case the child looks normal physically, but does not have the same cognitive ability as a normal child. A fetal alcohol effects child typically lacks impulse control, the ability to learn from experience, and will be highly susceptible to peer pressure.

These children lack many other abilities the rest of us take for granted. These are also children who often have great difficulties at school. As they grow older they frequently become involved with the law, and they form a significant percentage of the youth detention, and later the jail populations. Some of these children work very hard to succeed, but most live difficult lives that too often end early.

How many of these children and adults are there in Manitoba? Of the 10,000 children in care in Manitoba, senior child welfare officials report that about half have “developmental or addiction issues." That is politically correct code for children with FAS.

Although the research on such an important subject is surprisingly limited, there have been some studies on northern Manitoba reserves with the finding that fetal alcohol problems there appear to be rampant. On one reserve teachers reported that half the children did not seem to be capable of learning. Testing revealed that at least one in four children on that reserve was a fetal alcohol victim. So, exactly how many cases we are talking about is an unknown, but the number is in the many thousands, or tens of thousands nationally. 

To make matters worse, mothers with FAS are now giving birth to babies with FAS. Although there is no genetic link, a pregnant woman with FAS often lacks the ability to refrain from alcohol. So, in some rural communities and depressed urban pockets there are now grandparents, parents, and now children – all with FAS.

There are many dedicated people who work with fetal alcohol children and adults. They try to raise awareness of this issue among young women who are at risk. Poster campaigns and educational programs are offered by medical people, social workers, teachers, and volunteers. However, to date these efforts do not appear to have stemmed the depressingly steady flow of fetal alcohol births.

We need a more aggressive approach in cases where public education and persuasion do not stop a pregnant woman from endangering her unborn child by reckless drinking and drug consumption. If we saw a parent beating his or her child to the point of causing injury to the child’s brain we would not hesitate in having that parent charged, prosecuted, and jailed. We would also expect immediate intervention by the child welfare system if those parents had more children.

Yet we balk at doing anything more than trying gentle persuasion if a person persists in behavior that is likely to produce a brain-damaged child – a child with a compromised future.

What about authorizing a child care agency to detain for treatment a pregnant woman who refuses to control her addictions while pregnant? A Manitoba child care agency tried to do exactly that. The Supreme Court did not allow it, and left the woman’s future children to their fate in the 1998 case of D.F.G. But one dissenting judge, Justice Major, expressed the opinion that although a woman has the right to abortion, if she decides to have the child she must take reasonable steps to prevent her child from being born with brain damage.

Maybe it is time for another detention for treatment test case to see if Justice Major’s common sense dissent can now become a majority opinion. Our Supreme Court recently reversed itself on the physican-assisted death issue. Perhaps the same thing can happen with detention for treatment.

Although fetal alcohol cases are found in all races and population groups, most of the FAS cases we see in Canada are indigenous children and adults. Is it possible that there is some genetic predisposition at play? Amazingly, there is very little research on this profoundly important point, and nothing recent. Shouldn’t there be?

I suspect that researchers are hesitant to deal with an issue that will provoke accusations of “racism” or “eugenics research." But would it not be tragic if it turned out that there was a genetic predisposition, and we failed to look for it because we were afraid of being called names?

Some conditions and diseases do hit certain groups particularly hard. An example is Type 2 diabetes. It is now generally accepted that people from a hunter-gatherer background, such as Polynesians or North American indigenous people are more likely to develop diabetes than the general population. This finding was made after careful research that, to the credit of the aboriginal leaders, they welcomed. As a result of that research, prevention strategies specific to indigenous people have been adopted. Maybe diabetes and fetal alcohol syndrome are similar in that way. Maybe not. The point is that we should know.

And what about an inquiry into this vexing problem? The best minds could be brought in to investigate the extent of the problem, and to devise strategies to deal with it.

There is going to be an inquiry into the issue of missing women. It would be a grievous error to limit that inquiry to the less than 1% of female aboriginal victims of violence who are missing – the inquiry should look at the other 99% of victims who usually come to violence at the hand of their partner. But the issue of violence to aboriginal women is real, and it deserves an Inquiry. The fetal alcohol issue is every bit as important. The other provinces have the same fetal alcohol problem. In the far north the problem is even more severe. Aboriginal leaders, who have been so vocal on the missing women issue, should be just as vocal on a matter that affects so many indigenous lives. They should demand an FAS Inquiry.

Every fetal alcohol birth results in costs of millions of dollars over the course of that child’s life. Health care, child welfare, special education, youth detention, and eventually jail costs are a huge drain on the public purse. But more tragically, each fetal alcohol baby means another child who is who is handed a life sentence at birth for a condition that is completely preventable. 

Surely, we can do better.

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commented 2016-03-02 22:35:07 -0500
I believe this is a major problem in race relations in both Canada and the US. It does seem to be taboo to mention as this is surely to excite a storm of protest and attack from the race hustlers and poverty pimps.
commented 2016-03-02 18:08:15 -0500
Ah, sorry Andy, I’ve re-read your comment and I realize now that I was taking the author’s narrative and blending it into yours. I would re-dact your name from my post, if I could. We basically agree.
commented 2016-03-02 04:57:26 -0500
Mark Sutherland… Nowhere in my posting did I suggest that it has anything to do with “genetics”… It has everything to do with moral choices and what messages are being sent, or NOT, by the “moral leaders” in our reserve communities… (This, having an eerie parallel to what messages are being sent, or NOT, by so-called “moral leaders” in black communities in the United States…) So, do you get off your ass and prevail, as did millions of Europeans under 1800’s century empires, to emerge as free nations after WWI, or do you stay bound to a “victim mentality”,hence excusing F.A.S., child abuse, unemployment etc. etc etc….
commented 2016-03-01 21:38:34 -0500
The Liberals have to take some responsibility in this The supreme court is making it legal to abuse children. These people are having multiple FAS children and then deserting them. Someone has to pay and it should be the reserves.
commented 2016-03-01 21:38:34 -0500
The Liberals have to take some responsibility in this The supreme court is making it legal to abuse children. These people are having multiple FAS children and then deserting them. Someone has to pay and it should be the reserves.
commented 2016-03-01 19:07:41 -0500
Their are a few problems that arise when dealing with FAS prevention and handling those afflicted with it after they are born.

First off, while in the womb, is this a person, or is this tissue that belongs to the mother? Here we will see arguments from both sides, citing medical science, legal standing, and religious beliefs to secure their argument. Today, we have seen the hard move to the left where the fetus is viewed as tissue, and part of the mother. If this is to be the case, then no intervention or treatment can be forced upon the mother, at any time, for any reason, as it is her body. If this is not the case, and this fetus is considered a person, then he or she can be protected under law and intervention, treatment and controls can be put in place to prevent this disorder.

This naturally brings in the entire issue of abortion, a woman’s right to chose, and the right to life.

Currently in Canada, a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy at any time, right up to and including the end of the third trimester. Naturally late term abortions are strongly discouraged, but they are not illegal in Canada, and they are in fact done daily. So whether or not a child is born with FAS is entirely a choice made by the mother, and no one else. So it stands to reason that the responsibility for this also lies with the mother, and no one else. She could have had an abortion in Canada, which as I stated is perfectly legal. Yet she chose to run the pregnancy full term to delivery, all the time fully aware that the alcohol she is consuming daily is causing damage. As a side note, I have personally encountered these women, and seen them laugh at the prospect of having a child with FAS. Some of them see it as “no big deal” and then laugh again when told of the burden and hurt. “not my problem” Is the typical response.

So we have an impasse, and from here their is only one viable solution without rewriting the criminal code and making a fetus a person. That solution is to charge criminally any woman who has a child born with FAS. With a minimum incarceration of no less than 5 years. With the option of a 1 year sentence if a voluntary tubal ligation is performed. This epidemic of FAS must end. And stepped up measure need to be put in place to stop it. If the mother has all the rights before giving birth, she must be held to account after birth. No one is forcing her to drink, she has full control of her body, and she has every right to do so. But armed with the knowledge of the harm it is causing, she also has the responsibility to act in a manner that will not harm the child she chooses to bring into this world.

I see no other means of addressing this without violating a woman’s right to chose. But with all rights, comes responsibilities, and ensuring your child is not harmed by your actions is one of them.
commented 2016-03-01 17:59:10 -0500
Boy, have you opened up an ugly can of worms…and I applaud your courage and integrity for doing so.
Back in the 90’s when I worked with emotionally disturbed youth I had to deal with some FAS kids – challenging doesn’t begin to describe it. Tragic is what it is – because it’s so easily preventable – as in just saying no to the booze. Even considering all the points you’ve made to show how difficult it actually is to deal with in resolving it in our present socialist culture – whether that is addiction, genetics or politics.
Like the abomination of abortion, women are solely to blame here because of the choice they make to drink while pregnant – in that as far as I know, men can’t get pregnant. That is a fact, but the blame game doesn’t solve anything.
I doubt very much any solution can be brought to the fore until liberals and their political correctness agenda is dealt with, appropriately and effectively. Given the liberal/progressive penchant for ‘people control’, ‘detention for treatment’ actions – which may well be a viable and effect means to deal with this problem – will only be a step down the slippery slope of government overreach – like it always is for socialists.
If our society is going to be forced to have yet another taxpayer-funded, useless ‘inquiry’ into our ‘Indian problem’, then at the least this solvable FAS tragedy must be forced onto the agenda! How can we do that in the face of the Liberals and their progressive totalitarianism and their cohorts in the Media Party?
commented 2016-03-01 16:29:59 -0500
To Andy Niemers, Brian Geisbrecht and all else who think FAS could have something to do with genetics. The problem is not genetics, beyond the point of native peoples being recognized and established on Reserves. The problem is the same reason that Russians love their Vodka. The problem is depression. The Reserve problem is the social welfare problem, the problem that takes away people’s initiative by providing them a safe space. Another obvious factor is Seasonal Affective Disorder and cabin fever, all of course are linked to depression and while not wholly unique to Reserves, all of which exacerbated by them. Does any of this give them an excuse to do it? No, of course not, but we should all recognize the idea of alcohol and drugs being an easy out for some people to give themselves justification.
commented 2016-03-01 13:12:09 -0500
Our prisons are filled with those who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. Unfortunately, liberal governments need their victims to stay victims, so that they can use them to stay in power. Liberals only care until elected, and then the snow job continues as per usual.
commented 2016-03-01 04:21:33 -0500
I gather Sam Young, you are trying to whistle past the graveyard that FAS is proportionally more evident in native reserve children than any other sector of the Canadian population?…
commented 2016-03-01 04:15:03 -0500
Excellent Brian!… Excellent!…. FAS is indeed the “not so dirty little secret” of native communities not only in Manitoba but certainly British Columbia and other provinces… And it is a reality that for politically correct reasons nobody wants to address seriously… When I worked as a Public Information Officer for the B.C. Ministry of Family and Child Service in the late 70s, I was asked, because of my journalism background, to “spruce up” the then existent monthly ministry bulletin – who’s name I no longer remember – dedicated to promoting child adoptions within the ministry’s authority… Needless to say. a lot of the youngsters listed were of B.C. native reserve birth… ONE OF THE THINGS I WAS ASKED TO DOWNPLAY WAS THE MANIFESTATION OF F.A.S. IN THOSE CHILDREN… I was a bit naive and didn’t ask the questions that I should have asked… The general “spin” the ministry tried to promote was that F.A.S. was “no big deal”!… God only knows how many well-meaning adoptive parents were taken in by that ruse… And God only knows how many are still living with that reality today… And it evidently still goes on, in all provinces…
commented 2016-03-01 03:54:36 -0500
It is a simple matter of if a woman drinks while she is pregnant, the alcohol will affect the fetus. It has nothing to do with genetics.

The reason why there is more attention given to the missing and murdered aboriginal women, is because the aboriginals want that issue addressed.
commented 2016-02-29 18:44:26 -0500
Any problems to do with Aboriginals is considered a taboo subject according to political correctness. It is unfortunate because they really need help to pull themselves out of the gutter. Some natives have, typically by moving off of the reservation and into main stream Canadian society and getting a job. I applaud those that can get themselves out of the bad situation and making a living for themselves.