Eugene Volokh points to an AP story about a woman who, according to prosecutors, refused to have a c-section because she didn’t want to be left with a scar. Although neither Eugene or any of the other bloggers I’ve read have mentioned this, the woman says the story is not true.
“I’ve never refused a C-section. I’ve already had two prior C-sections. Why would I say something like that?” Ms Rowland said.
The facts of this case are, for now, too muddled to draw any conclusions from. The prosecutors say that her objections to a c-section were purely cosmetic, but a nurse claims Ms Rowland said the doctors planned to cut her “from breast bone to pubic bone”; if Ms Rowland had been given that impression, then she’d have more than cosmetic reasons to fear the operation. Ms. Rowland’s lawyer says she suffers from mental illness, and Ms. Rowland herself says she never turned down a c-section at all.
Like a law professor quoted in the AP story, I’m concerned about the precedent this case could set.
“It’s very troubling to have somebody come in and say we’re going to charge this mother for murder because we don’t like the choices she made,” she said.
Eugene Volokh’s discussion is very worth reading:
I suspect that most (though not all) people would hesitate to find a woman guilty of murder when she aborts a child at gestational age 9 months because carrying the child (or having a caesarean) would cause her to, say, be permanently paralyzed, or would involve even a 25% chance of her dying. The question is whether the same should apply when we’re dealing with a caesarean, a serious surgical procedure and one that sometimes does lead to death and always leads to a nontrivial and somewhat painful recovery, but nonetheless one that in the overwhelming majority of all cases doesn’t cause death or serious permanent injury.
Finally, does it matter that medicine is an inexact science, and that a woman may well sincerely distrust her doctors’ assurances that (1) a caesarean is needed to save the child’s life, and (2) a caesarean would be safe for her? Is that another reason to leave the issue entirely up to the mother? Or would we say what the law often says as to parents’ other duties: Even if you sincerely believe that your child will get better if you just pray over him, instead of taking him to surgery, you may still be held liable at least for involuntary manslaughter (negligent homicide) even if not murder (reckless, knowing, or intentional homicide)?
As far as Eugene’s analogies go, I think the bone marrow example is far more on-target than the prayer case; a parent asked to take their child to the doctor in addition to praying, is not being asked to go under the knife himself.
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If the woman was mentally ill – and that seems like a reasonable possibility – then I have to wonder, did anyone at any of the three hospitals she visited attempt to offer her treatment for her illness? And is putting her on trial – rather than getting her treatment now – really the appropriate public policy response?
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It’s interesting to compare this case to a case I blogged about in January: A hospital sought (and got) a court order to perform a c-section on an unwilling woman, in order to save the infant. Fortunately, the woman left that hospital before they could enforce the court order. She wound up giving birth in another hospital, and gave birth to a healthy baby.