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Alcohol Abstention Advice to Pregnant Women Paternalistic

Last Updated: May 04, 2009.

Advising pregnant women to abstain entirely from alcohol is both paternalistic and ethically dubious, according to an article published in the May issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

MONDAY, May 4 (HealthDay News) -- Advising pregnant women to abstain entirely from alcohol is both paternalistic and ethically dubious, according to an article published in the May issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Colin Gavaghan, Ph.D., of the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, writes that although the evidence of the risks to the fetus from heavy maternal alcohol consumption is well established, studies on the impact of light and moderate drinking have produced conflicting findings.

A recent study by researchers at University College London, which found that not only did low levels of alcohol consumption not pose a threat to the fetus but may in some cases have made a positive contribution, was contrary to evidence from previous studies and was unlikely to be the last study to examine the impact of maternal alcohol consumption, the author writes. In the absence of conclusive evidence, medical professionals are patronizing and potentially misleading patients, he argues.

"The total abstinence policy advocated by the United Kingdom's Department of Health, and even more stridently by the British Medical Association, sits uneasily with recent data and is far from ethically unproblematic," the author writes. "In particular, the 'precautionary' approach advocated by these bodies displays both scant regard for the autonomy of pregnant and prospectively pregnant women and a confused grasp of the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence."

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