Vice Squad
Monday, November 10, 2003
Crack Cocaine and a Stillborn Fetus

Vice policy, alas, involves more than it share of unhappy and unsettling
stories. Mark Kleiman reports that last month the Supreme Court issued an
order denying the appeal of a South Carolina woman who was convicted
of homicide when her pregnancy of 8.5 months ended with a stillbirth,
and who tested positive for cocaine. The woman was given a 20-year
jail term, with 8 years suspended. A Christian Science Monitor story
(linked by Kleiman) on the court order can be found here.

The ingestion of any drug by a pregnant woman, including legal drugs like
alcohol and nicotine, generally is not a good thing for the fetus, and in
significant doses, is almost assuredly not a good thing. Perhaps surprisingly,
however, the evidence that there is substantial damage to a fetus from
maternal cocaine use is rather scanty. (Read Stanton Peele's summary here.)
Professor Kleiman notes: "...there is precisely no medical evidence that
maternal cocaine use can cause stillbirth."

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