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Pandora’s Box, Opened

Woman charged with murder after refusing Caesarean

Much good discussion of this over at HMS Blog.

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posted March 12, 2004 at 4:19 pm

I don’t know the law in Utah, but in law school we learned about so-called “Good Samaritan” laws. In most states, they don’t exist. In other words, you can’t be charged for a crime because of inaction.
A good example of this happened in Nevada a few years ago. Two guys went to a casino together as friends. They both went into the restroom at the same time. The first went into the stall by himself and then the second came into the stall beside his a few minutes later. The second guy had dragged a little girl (like 9 years old or something) into the stall, raped her, and ended up killing her. The other guy did nothing even though he heard something bad going on. He washed his hands and left. He didn’t open the stall, he didn’t inform security, even though he heard struggling and a little girl. He wasn’t charged with anything because he broke no law.
If Utah law is anything like Nevada law (like most states’ laws), I think the prosecutor will have a very tough time convicting her. The law simply doesn’t require anyone to take action to save another’s life.
If it’s your child, there may be child neglect violations, but considering the fact that the unborn have little legal protection in this country, it’d also be hard for a prosecutor to get her on that.

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posted March 12, 2004 at 5:14 pm

Good stuff? I guess I bogged down when the loving Christian crowd leaped to call a clearly mentally ill woman — check the picture, note the history — a “fashionista,” as though she’s some sort of Britney hard-belly who’s worried about how she’ll look in a bikini. They say it’s All About the Baby, but deep down, it’s All About the Slut, isn’t it?

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Donald R. McClarey

posted March 12, 2004 at 10:02 pm

Nance, it’s all about a dead child. S.F., parents go to jail every day for failure to take action to save their children from starvation, abuse, sexual exploitation, etc. The law, rightfully, holds parents to a much higher standard in regard to their children than it does strangers.

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posted March 12, 2004 at 10:38 pm

No, Donald R. McClarey, it’s all about forcing women to do what you think they should do.
S.F. is more right than he thinks. There is absolutely no chance that this prosecution will be successful. We don’t legally compel a parent to donate even a small amount of blood, or bone marrow, or other tissue, to save his child’s life, even in cases in which the parent is the only match and the child will certainly die without it. So we’re certainly not going to compel a woman to undergo invasive surgery to save the life of her fetus.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted March 12, 2004 at 10:59 pm

No, Jim, it’s all about a dead child and all the sophistic political slogans in the world will not change that. Women have been successfully prosecuted for taking drugs during pregancy that led to harm to their unborn babies. Parents have been successfully prosecuted for failing to allow lifesaving medical treatment for their children. Parents also, contrary to your statement, are often compelled to provide blood and tissue samples for the benefit of their children. Happens every day in paternity cases and in cases where testing is needed to determine whether a child has inherited a genetic abnormality from a parent.

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Claude Muncey

posted March 13, 2004 at 1:04 am

Donald, I think before responding again, you might want to review some of the more detailed stories on this issue, one of which I can find no reference to on this blog or at HMS. Most of the discussion seems to have centered around the facts presented in the relatively short Fox News story that Amy cited above. But you can get much more detailed coverage from the Salt Lake Tribune or KSL Radio/TV as the best local sources.
First off, there is no question that Ms. Rowland is a real piece of work. She has a variety of problems, many seeming, at least in part, self inflicted. But she does not match the ‘fashionista’ image some readers picked up from the original story. A
Tribune story reported what Michael Sikora, her public defender, had to say about her mental condition:

. . . Rowland, herself a twin, was born to a mentally retarded mother. She was placed in foster care almost immediately and adopted before her first birthday. Her twin brother had serious medical problems and died when he was 7, Sikora said.

Rowland was committed to a Pennsylvania mental hospital when she was 12, weighing almost 200 pounds, and diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder,” Sikora said. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry defines the condition as an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with day-to-day functioning.

His client was hospitalized in a mental facility at least one other time and told him she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Sikora said. The defense attorney is waiting for records to confirm that.

Rowland’s statements to doctors and nurses, says Vicki Cottrell, the executive director of the Utah chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, seem to confirm a mental illness.

“All I can say is there’s no question this is not rational thinking,” Cottrell said. “There are so many things going on in a [mentally ill] person’s mind, it really is not clearly black-and-white disobedience.”

While she might have some credibility issues with some people (including me), it is interesting to note that, according to one interview, she had already had more than one C-section before this:

In a jailhouse interview with KSL Newsradio 1160, Ms Rowland denied she had been advised to have a C-section with the twins.

“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.

According to the Tribune, though, the problem was quite apparent to the varied group of health care workers who encountered Ms. Rowland:

Sikora said child protection authorities were told of the situation when Rowland was still pregnant, but took no action.

“We have not been granted authority to intervene in the life of an unborn child,” said Carol Sisco, a spokeswoman for the Division of Child and Family Services. “We don’t have jurisdictional authority.”

The only agency with authority would have been a hospital, who could have petitioned to have a guardian appointed for the child. That guardian could have then petitioned a judge to force the medical procedure on Rowland.

The woman is obviously as competent as a box o’ rocks (just look at her booking picture displayed at the top of each of these stories), but two out of three hospitals let her walk off with a serious threat to her unborn children — except for the legal release that one hospital got her to sign to make sure they could not get sued. It may be rather hard to establish that she had the full capability to form intent, in the legal sense.
There is no question that this is a tragedy, and should have been prevented, but the lessons to be drawn from this case may be rather different from those many people leaped to present today when they first heard of this.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted March 13, 2004 at 5:45 am

Thank you Claude. I am aware of the factual disputes in this case. Like any other legal proceeding the factual disputes will have to be resolved by the trier of fact, either a judge or a jury. The prosecution, as usual, will have the burden of proof. Her lack of mens rea by virtue of mental incompetence can of course be asserted by her defense counsel.

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posted March 13, 2004 at 9:27 am

Believe me, I think the woman did something very wrong, and if she’s mentally competent, a conviction is probably in order. I’m just pointing out that she probably didn’t break the law. I’ve never studied Utah law specifically, so I don’t know for sure. But the fact is, in this country, you can’t be convicted of a crime unless you actually clearly broke a law already on the books.
I’d like to see the actual language of the statute the prosecutor is claiming she violated.

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posted March 13, 2004 at 1:40 pm

Actually, while you ordinarily can’t prosecute someone for failing to act to save a person’s life, in the case of parent/child you can, since the parent has a pre-existing legal duty to help the child.

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Stuart Buck

posted March 13, 2004 at 3:45 pm

For what it’s worth, there might be quite a bit more to the story. The Smoking Gun website has one of the court documents here. If the affidavit is true — and it’s more likely to be true than any of the media reports, as it’s sworn under oath — then this is what happened: Detective Jorgensen was called to the hospital because two twins had been born with cocaine in their systems. The nurse stated that when Ms. Rowland arrived, one of her babies was already dead in utero and the other was in distress. The nurse advised Rowland to have an emergency C-section. Rowland insisted on going outside to smoke first. (!).
Then, she did have the C-section. [This is the opposite of what has been reported in many stories.] On having the C-section, it turned out that one of the babies was already dead and the other baby tested positive for cocaine and alcohol. Rowland claimed that the cocaine must have been in some marijuana that she had been smoking.
That’s what the affidavit filed in court said. If it turns out to be true, then the baby’s death was not due to Rowland refusing a C-section, but probably because of her drug use.
And in another interesting twist, Rowland reportedly tried to sell the dead baby — from jail — to some prospective adoptive parents. (She didn’t tell them it was dead, of course; she claimed not to have delivered yet, and said she wanted the money for bail.)

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posted March 13, 2004 at 7:16 pm

This woman has just made a medical decision which may have resulted in the death of her child. Her booking picture doesn’t look happy, or steady, or even television-worthy, because of her circumstances. Imagine yourself, or your spouse, having just refused a Caesarean section and given birth to two children, one living, one stillborn, and then being forced to take a perp walk before the epidurals have worn off.
Would you be smiling?
Her family were mentally disabled. She was overweight as a child and has a history of defiant behavior. Maybe she’s crazy. But so?
We’re talking about a Caesarean section, and she claimed to have two previous ones. Weight gain as a teenager might be associated with prior pregnancy, no?
This woman is not an incubator or a vessel for the nation, the State, the community, or the family of Man to reproduce via. She is a woman. The father of her children, one living, one lost, is not a wheat seeder upon the Earth but an actual man. And if a woman’s family history and troubled teenage years equal incompetence to decide what major surgeries she is willing to go through, why would the authorities not allow a guardian to force abortion, or at least sterilization, on such simple, helpless women?
Is freedom of moral choice a universal gift of God or a zone whose penumbra is to be determined by the State of Utah and its experts?

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posted March 13, 2004 at 10:09 pm

If this was a matter that was up to the woman’s choice, she shouldn’t be prosecuted. If it wasn’t, then prosecuting a mentally ill drug addict after the fact for making the wrong choice is about the least good way of handling the situation. Bad all around.

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Donald R. McClarey

posted March 13, 2004 at 10:45 pm

Bad all around indeed for the dead child.

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Jimmy Mac

posted March 14, 2004 at 1:43 am

Ooooooo, JM: are you going to get it from the Keepers of Orthodoxy, now!

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posted March 15, 2004 at 9:35 am

JM writes, “Is freedom of moral choice a universal gift of God or a zone whose penumbra is to be determined by the State of Utah and its experts?”
I have the freedom of moral choice to kill my wife and kids. I choose not to. If I choose to, I would expect the State of Ohio to lock my ass up in jail for the rest of my life (more likely, they’d kill me). Wouldn’t you?

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posted March 15, 2004 at 9:24 pm

This woman is put in jail because she refused a Caesarean, and one of her twins died. A married woman without a history of family tragedy, obesity or psychiatric problems would receive sympathy. Perhaps the very officials that are prosecuting her would be comforting her in a puff piece on the evening news, not in shackles. But no. Her mom and her brother were “retarded”. She’s single her whole life and she’s had two previous C-sections. She may have been a fat girl. She’s had a major problem with authority.
Because of her history this woman is being punished for making a decision that most women who read this site would be completely free to make. If she were a blogger some of us would pray Perpetual Novena and take up a collection. But no. She doesn’t get to make that decision. Why? Because an M.D. has pronounced her unfit to make a single major decision for the rest of her life? When will we realize that biology is not destiny and that if people possessed of homosexuality can refuse to sin, certainly simple defiance can be cast out? Do we refuse crazy people communion? What about single mothers? Adulterers? Beggars? Taxmen? Zealots?

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