Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor:
Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA;
Journal Review Editor: Brenda L. Seago, MLS, MA, Medical College of Virginia
Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University.
In Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility, Elizabeth
Armstrong examines a long history of social and political factors shaping
the medicalization of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and its effect on public
health policy. The relationship between maternal alcohol use and fetal problems
has been a topic of inquiry and often of concern for centuries, influenced
by views of alcohol and social disorder, eugenics, and reproductive politics.
The three decades following repeal of Prohibition, however, represented
a break with earlier thought, with the leading medical and alcohol researchers
asserting that the evidence did not warrant concerns about drinking during
pregnancy. During the 1960s and through the 1970s, ethanol was even used to
prevent preterm labor. The book discusses how the increase in per capita consumption,
social acceptance of women’s drinking, the definition of alcoholism
as a disease in the 1950s, and even the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous all
facilitated this change in focus. The “rediscovery” of alcohol’s
role in pregnancy in the 1970s, with the medical definition of FAS, coincided
with increased attention to other gender and reproductive issues, including
the Roe vs Wade decision and concerns about the fetal “environment,”
ranging from thalidomide and maternal rubella to larger environmental toxins.
Weisner C. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. JAMA. 2005;293(5):623-629. doi:10.1001/jama.293.5.627