It took just seven minutes from the time Sandy Parsons's nose first started to bleed until he died in his father's arms. A coroner later determined that the 25-year-old man had died of a brain aneurysm and that the blood vessels in his brain were malformed because his mother had drunk too much alcohol when she was pregnant.
The death last January was a blow to Ernie Parsons, a Liberal MPP from the eastern Ontario riding of Prince Edward-Hastings, who with his wife, Linda, adopted Sandy when he was not quite two years old. "There's no words to describe losing a child," he said. "It's been a difficult road."
But yesterday, in an extraordinary display of non-partisan unanimity, members of the Ontario Legislature joined Mr. Parsons in supporting a bill that would require bars, beer stores and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to warn women that drinking could cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
"Part of me says it's a wonderful tribute to my son," Mr. Parsons said after his private member's bill received unanimous 53-0 approval in principle. "But the best part is I think it will save children from facing challenges in life that there's no need to."
The bill, known informally as Sandy's Law, would amend the Liquor Licence Act to require any establishment selling liquor to post a warning sign about the risks that drinking poses to a fetus. Nineteen U.S. states have a similar regulation but Ontario would be the first jurisdiction in Canada to require warning signs.
In recent years, private members' bills have rarely been passed into law but Sandy's Law seems assured of quick passage because Premier Dalton McGuinty was among those supporting it yesterday. The bill will go to committee for discussion about the appropriate signage before coming back to the legislature for a final vote.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is estimated to affect nine out of every thousand children born in Canada. It is characterized by slow development, abnormal facial features and behavioural difficulties. Mr. Parsons said it is the leading cause of development disabilities among Canadian children and estimated that 42 per cent of the federal penitentiary population is affected.
Mr. Parsons said few people understood the impact of alcohol on a fetus at the time when Sandy was adopted. "We knew there was something different but we didn't know what," he said. He called fetal alcohol syndrome the only preventable form of mental retardation.
"That's the craziness, we don't need to do research," he said in the legislature. "We don't need to commission scientists to find a cure for fetal alcohol syndrome because there is none. We know we can stop it simply by making women informed."
Also yesterday, the legislature approved in principle a bill introduced by former Conservative health minister Elizabeth Witmer that would require the Ontario to provide under OHIP free vaccines against chicken pox and meningitis.