BIOETHICS FORUMS DECISION NOTEBOOK
"I'm not allowed to serve a drunk; I'm not allowed to serve somebody without shoes, I'm not allowed to serve teenagers, but I'm supposed to serve a pregnant woman? Give me a break. I wasn't rude; I merely suggested she might prefer ginger ale instead of wine. But when she got so mad at me, I decided, no way. I didn't say she was an alcoholic, how could I know that? All I know is with a pregnant woman, I'm serving two people and one of them is definitely under age."
Why is he/she a stakeholder?
The waiter is a stakeholder because he might lose his job. He may have thought that if he served the woman alcohol he would share part of the responsbility if her child was later born with fetal alcohol syndrome. He may have been worried about the financial responsibility that he and the restaurant faced, the moral responsibility to avoid harming a fetus, or some combination of both.
What values does he/she hold?
It seems that he was initially concerned with the safety of the fetus, but when the woman took offense he began to take it personally.
Sanctity of Life
Many people believe that life (human life, usually) is sacred. They believe it is wrong to end a life, and some believe that all possible measures should be taken to keep a person alive as long as possible.
There is a lot of confusion and disagreement about fetuses in our society. Is a fetus a live being, or does it only become one at birth? The waiter's comment that "with a pregnant woman you are serving two" suggests he may think the fetus is a live organism that has the same rights as any individual. When do you think a fetus acquires rights?
Religious traditions are sets of beliefs and rules that guide people through life and its many difficult decisions. Religious beliefs tend to be more absolute than personal values. Religious traditions include the great world religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, as well as many religions with fewer adherents.
The waiter may have religious beliefs that make him feel that the fetus is an individual and its life is sacred.
Nonmalificence means not causing harm. Some people think the duty of nonmalificence means not hurting others. Others think the duty extends to preventing people from being harmed by third parties.
The waiter does not want the mother to hurt the fetus by drinking alcohol, and he does not want to help the mother do so by being the one who serves her a drink.
Personal ethics are sets of rules that guide people through life's difficult decisions. They vary from person to person, and are derived from many sources including religion, philosophy, and the social contract.
Five common personal ethics are honesty, respect, trust, honor, and fairness. Honesty means telling the truth and not breaking an agreement. Some people believe they should always tell the truth, even if nobody asked for it or if it hurts someone. Others give the truth only when asked to do so, or when it will save someone from harm.
Respect and honor are ways of recognizing another person's autonomy. To respect and honor a person is to recognize that person's ability to make decisions for himself and to not interfere once the decision is made.
Trust is having faith that another person will honor and respect you.
Fairness is an attempt to make sure everyone has what they need without interfering with the autonomy of others.
The waiter became upset when the woman got mad at him for refusing to serve her. He may feel that she did not show him enough respect, and had no right to get mad at him.
What are his/her immediate objectives?
He wants the owner to support his action, and he wants the restaurant to have a strong policy against serving pregnant women.
What information is relevant?
The waiter will be interested in how alcohol can affect a fetus and what the restaurant's current policy is regarding serving alcohol to pregnant women.
Serving Alcoholic Beverages
As a facility licensed to serve alcoholic beverages to the public, we have a legal responsibility to refuse to serve alcohol to customers when it is apparent that doing so puts either them or others in danger. Allowing a customer to become intoxicated puts this establishment at risk for lawsuits, criminal prosecution, and loss of licensure.
Therefore, before serving any alcoholic beverages to any customer, all wait persons, bartenders, and other restaurant employees must determine whether there is any indication that allowing the customer to drink will endanger either the customer or others. You will find that the most common indication will be signs of intoxication. Be sure to confirm the customer's age if there is any doubt that he or she is above the legal age for consuming alcoholic beverages.
According to the restaurant's policy regarding serving alcohol, the waiter has "a legal responsibility to refuse to serve alcohol to customers when it is apparent that doing so puts either them or others in danger." It seems that the waiter is interpreting this to include putting the health of the woman's fetus in danger. Is that a legitimate interpretation of the policy? What assumptions are the waiter's interpretations based on?
"The developing embryo is vulnerable to the slightest chemical changes in the mother's bloodstream. As soon as there's a possibility of pregnancy, a woman must consider her behavior. A single drink of alcohol, for example, can seriously affect development during the early weeks of pregnancy, and can cause FAS. Babies with FAS are often premature, weigh less, and can suffer varying degrees of mental retardation."
The pediatrician's comments support the waiter's belief that alcohol could harm the fetus. Do you know of other variables that could be taken into account?
Drug Addict Mothers
The doctors at the local university are doing something about our epidemic of drug- and alcohol-damaged infants. They have set up a free prenatal program for poor women. Women who sign up for the program are tested for drug use. If a woman tests positive, she is confronted with a choice: enter drug treatment or go to jail.
Most people would find the decision easy, but so far over 40 of these mothers9despite the fact that they are endangering their unborn children9have refused to get drug treatment and have been sent to jail.
Clearly, these women are unfit to be mothers. We suggest that these women, who cannot avoid drugs even to protect their unborn children, should be encouraged to have abortions or be sterilized.
Mother Considered Guilty of Child Abuse
A woman who used cocaine during pregnancy, even hours before giving birth, was convicted of prenatal child abuse and neglect. "This is a case of giving drugs to a child, plain and simple," commented Judge Lutwak, "It is the duty of the state to protect the child from this kind of exposure."
The mother's attorney argued that state child abuse laws deal only with minors under 21 years old and not fetuses. The judge admitted that the attorney was correct but argued that he "had to take a stand for the safety of the fetus."
Extensive testing showed the baby developed no signs of addiction or serious health problems from exposure to the drug.
These two articles suggest that society has an obligation to step in to protect a fetus from a mother who abuses alcohol or drugs. Does a society have a right to tell a woman what to do with her own body? Does the woman in this forum abuse drugs or alcohol? Is exposing a fetus to drugs or alcohol a form of child abuse? What do you think of the punishments for mothers discussed in these two articles?
Mother Sues Distiller for FAS
A 39-year-old mother has filed suit in U.S. District Court against a major distilling company, charging that the company is responsible for her child's birth defects because the company failed to place labels on its products to warn customers of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
The woman, who admits she is an alcoholic, told the court that she would have stopped drinking alcohol during her pregnancy, if she had known that drinking could have harmed her unborn baby.
The woman's 4-year-old son has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which causes mental retardation, learning disabilities, and facial and cranial deformities.
"I had no knowledge of any damage that could be done (from alcohol), and if I had, I would have quit," she told the court. The mother has stated that on some days during the pregnancy she would split a fifth of whisky with her husband.
A company executive testified that he does not believe there is a connection between alcohol and birth defects, disagreeing with the findings of nationally recognized experts on birth defects.
This article suggests that the restaurant could possibly be held liable if the pregnant woman drinks alcohol at the restauarant and then later gives birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. Should restaurants and bars who profit from the sale of alcohol be responsible for the damage caused by alcohol? Should alcohol manufacturers be responsible for the damage caused by alcohol? What responsibility should the person drinking the alcohol have? Should people who make and sell alcohol be required to inform drinkers of the risk associated with alcohol?