The habit of substance abuse during pregnancy has become a controversial and hotly debated topic about whether it should be treated or punished. The dilemma is whether a woman who uses illegal drugs or alcohol during pregnancy should be regarded as a criminal or as a patient who needs help (Hammaker, Knadig, & Tomlinson, 2016). This issue is addressed differently across the various states in the US. Some states regard such women as criminals, and so, they are severely punished. Other states regard them as patients in need of treatment. This diversity in responses demonstrates the lack of appropriate policy to protect the health of unborn children. Mothers who use illegal drugs, smoke, or consume alcohol during pregnancy should be detained in hospitals or incarcerated, to protect the well-being of their unborn babies.
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Life begins after conception. Therefore, a fetus should be considered as a human being with rights. It is unethical for a mother to endanger the wellbeing of a fetus by taking drugs or abusing substances (Hammaker et al., 2016). In 2003, a woman was sentenced to prison for 12 years for using cocaine during her pregnancy. Doctors who participated in the trial argued that the baby was stillborn because of the effects of the cocaine the mother consumed during pregnancy. This is an example of the severe consequences of drug abuse during pregnancy. The punishment might have been harsh, but the mother disregarded her baby’s welfare by exposing the fetus to toxic substances. Science has shown that drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine are harmful to fetuses (Hammaker et al., 2016). For instance, children that are born of drug-using mothers often exhibit developmental challenges. When a mother takes drugs, they are passed on to the fetus. The fetus feels the impact of drugs when they are ingested by a pregnant woman and it suffers by undergoing harmful developmental alterations.
Taking drugs during pregnancy risks the health of the mother and the baby. For example, the effects of using cocaine include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and respiratory failure (Walley, Simkin, Keppler, Durham, & Bolding, 2016). These problems can be passed to the fetus and alter the normal process of growth and development. The baby is affected by drug use because drugs increase the likelihood of birth defects. Examples of the common effects of drug use during pregnancy include stillborn births, premature babies, and underweight babies (Hammaker et al., 2016). The exposure of a fetus to drugs such as marijuana and alcohol has been linked to behavior problems among children. Also, prolonged exposure causes other developmental problems that include poor memory and inability to concentrate (Walley et al., 2016). Researchers have also shown that the exposure of a fetus to cocaine, tobacco, and alcohol causes alterations in the proper development of brain structure. These alterations persist into adolescence and negatively affect the development of cognitive abilities.
Children born to women who use cocaine exhibit numerous physical and mental challenges. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a baby that was exposed to cocaine during pregnancy shows deficits in developmental areas that include information processing, cognitive performance, and attention (Walley et al., 2016). In that regard, the children perform poorly in school and life. Physical deficits include smaller heads and urinary tract defects.
In conclusion, the use of drugs and illegal substances during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, underweight babies, and stillborn babies. Therefore, women who use drugs and other substances during pregnancy should be detained in hospitals or incarcerated to protect the well-being of their unborn babies.
Hammaker, D. K., Knadig, T. M., & Tomlinson, S. J. (2016). Health care ethics and the law. New York, NY: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
Walley, J., Simkin, P., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, childbirth, and the newborn: The complete guide. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.