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Jehovah's Witness Refuses
Blood; Drunk Driver
Gets Ten Years
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Although severely injured a drunk driver, Jadine Russell had enough clarity of mind to insist that she be given no blood. In fact, the devout Jehovah's Witness repeated this demand to emergency workers at least ten times. At one point she apparently pulled an IV out of her arm.

"If it's my time to go, it's my time to go," she replied to a doctor who had leveled with her that she'd probably die without a transfusion.

Prosecutors charged the intoxicated driver, Keith Cook, 32, with second degree murder when, in fact, Ms Russell did die from complications following the mishap. The question here is did she kill herself for refusing medical help, or did the driver kill her, notwithstanding that she refused help?

At the trial, Cook's attorney, Charles Unger, told the jury, "People are free to have their religious choice and freedom, but when it has consequences for someone else, that is where the line is drawn." Recognizing the attorney's responsibility to defend his client, one still wonders if this is the same logic which holds a woman responsible for her rape because she dressed in pretty clothes that day.

The jury, however, was indecisive: after 3½ days of deliberation, they decided to divide the responsibility between the two. Thus, where prosecutors wanted conviction on a more serious form of homicide, they found Cook guilty of manslaughter, a clear reduction from what prosecutors initially sought. He gets ten years, or maybe more.

 

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Cliff's Initial Thoughts:

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Michael:

Cliff,

You asked for opinions, so here goes:

The same place any other freedom ends: Just before it impinges on another person's liberty or property, that is, another person's self. The mind is powerful enough that "faith healing" seems to work, at least occasionally. To prevent the practice of any religion -- that is, any religion that does not include the initiation of force or fraud -- would be a terrible infringement of rights, it would be an imposition of another opinion.

I realize there may be a separate question regarding children, though I don't accept that position. Some, though, may think that if a child had been the victim, a mother could not legally prevent blood transfusion. The Bible is very explicit, though, about avoiding blood -- although obviously it is open to interpretation -- and to force a transfusion would be an ugly imposition on freedom of conscience.
 

Of course. Speaking as a (thank God former) journalist, I can assure you and everyone else that anything from the Associated Press is likely to be at the very least incomplete, if not downright erroneous.
 

I don't know what more would be necessary, nor would it change any facts or principles heretofore stated. The driver, according to the story, is guilty of several charges, but apparently the jury ruled wisely. Just as any person has the right to suicide, morally has the right to call in Dr. Kevorkian, so has any person the right to refuse any kind of medical treatment that would offend one's sensibilities, including a religious belief.

One could say it was suicide, but she wouldn't have been in her predicament without the driver's having hit her. We must (at least I do) accept a person's objection to military service based on religion, even if we don't (and I don't) accept religion as based on fact.

So we must accept religious reasons for any action, as long as that action does not violate the rights of other persons.

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Dorman:

The man contributed to her death. It would not have happened at that time without his help.

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Jyoti:

The State or any agency like Emergency Team should respect Individual's instructions no matter what her beliefs are unless we can get an independent psychiatrist can prove she was mentally unfit when she made that unreasonable request. Apparently she was given blood against her wishes, which is wrong. We don't know if the blood given to her killed her by producing adverse reaction, if so then the ER can be held responsible for her death. If she died because she was brainwashed by Jehovah's Witnesses, the church should held accountable for her death. Probably we don't have the law yet to do this. Drunk drivers should be penalized for their actions whether there is death or not. I agree with the Cook's lawyer about where the line has to be drawn. You freedom ends when it interferes with another person's freedom, where the responsibilities of both meet and begin.

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Bob:

Cliff,

It looks like a "Who owns what?" problem to me.

X injures Y. Y refuses treatment. Y dies. Did X kill Y?

In the real world X and Y own themselves, which means they are each responsible for their actions. Therefore, X should pay Y for the injury. However, Y owns her life, so by refusing treatment she has killed herself and X is not responsible for her death.

We have a century and a half history of court decisions which defy reality. It is in the interests of the state to claim ownership of a person's life. The state owns me, my income, my home, my children, and the state directs the use of my life. I may be drafted, taxed and taxed again, forced to send my children to school, and my freedom of movement may be curtailed for any reason at any time.

In the example, X and Y both belong to the state. X destroys state property, X is punished.

The only good thing about this system of government is, it won't last. It never has.

Cheers!

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Kevin:

I would hope that in the Jehovah's Witness case you cite (which I do remember reading about) that the attorney's case would be presented in such a way that the degree of responsibility would be assessed. In fact it sounds like this was the case, as the jury "split the difference" by going with manslaughter.

It is hard not to assign some degree of guilt to a drunken driver, and I'm sure some testimony was presented about the fact that there is a chance the woman would have succumbed to her injuries despite transfusion.

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Wayne:

When an incident unfolds as a sequence of choices made by differnt individuals, it is generally held that the last person whose choice would have made a difference in the outcome, has the primary responsibility to make the right choice.

It is clear that Jadine Russell was conscious and made the last, critical choice in this unfortunate chain of events. Therefore, in any issuance of blame, a large degree must rest with Ms. Russell, who made that last decision that meant the difference between life and death, regardless of whomever else might have been responsible for placing her in those circumstances. The attorney, Charles Unger, argued that the drunk driver must be held responsible for that portion of the event which is clearly his fault, but he cannot be held responsible for someone else's choices which are beyond his control. The jury agreed, reaching, in my opinion, the correct decision that the driver was guilty of manslaughter for his reckless disregard leading to the accident, but it was not murder.

Religious people often like to talk about responsibilities and consequences. Its about time that they realize that there are often real-world consequences of their beliefs, and if they aren't ready to accept responsiblity, and blame when appropriate, then they should reconsider those beliefs. They do not have the right to make others take responsiblity for their own faith- guided choices when those choices make situations worse. They're always eager to accept credit when those choices make things better- it would be hypocritical not to accept the reverse.

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Bobbi:

Hi Cliff,

For me, there is a relatively simple answer to this question.

The constitution of the United States guarantees Ms. Russell's right to practice the teachings of her chosen religion. Mr. Cook has no such guarantee which allows him to drive drunk. He is in violation of the law. Mr. Cook has made a conscious decision to violate the law and drive drunk.

Ms. Russell did not "decide" to refuse blood, she had no choice. According the teachings of her faith, she must refuse the transfusion.

In spite of my being in total opposition to the teachings of her faith, I must defend her absolute right to do as her conscience dictates.

Ms. Russell's faith did not bring about her death, Mr. Cook's drunk driving did.

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Nicole:

Dear Cliff Walker:

Too bad for him he hit a person that was sick: Guilty as charged.

Nicole

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Ray:

All I can say about the California case is what was on a bumper sticker--"Freedom is the distance between church and state." No way can we allow God's law to supplant secular law in our court rooms. However, what chance do we have with judges and jurors who are fanatical believers.

The second question strikes me as the very reason there have been so many gods in the past, someone had their way and foisted it off on the gullible. Science fiction creates gods today, and does a much better job of it that the ancients with their mystic scribbling. Would the world be a better place?--how could it be, because Christianity has the ultimate message of love, peace and forgiveness and that has accomplished little in the real world.

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HazyBrane:

I think he should have gotten charged for drunk driving and of course hitting someone else but not for manslaughter. Since the woman didn't want treatment it is hard to say if she died from her own actions or from being hit by the driver and not from her own actions. The woman is to blame too [because] she refused treatment and it was pretty much suicide for her to refuse since she was severely injured so isn't that a sin to her; to commit suicide? I am sure she looks at it from a different view but if I was injured I would want my life to be saved and not say if it is my time let me go. That is just ignorant to me.

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Sam:

It is a fascinating causation issue. I agree with the defense attorney: She killed herself. Period. The charges themselves should have been reduced to Vehicular Assault, or it's equivalent, unless the prosecution could prove (probably in a pre-trial motion to the Judge) that even WITH the blood, she would have died anyway, although I'm not sure what standard one would have to use at that level. In other words, would the prosecution have to prove that at least to a reasonable medical probability she would have died (the standard, more or less, in a civil case), or beyond a reasonable doubt? I don't know. But it seems that would have been the more fair way to proceed -- there was such obvious intervening causation here -- by the victim's own hand. Yeah, her religious freedom is not curtailed by her exercise of it, but his responsibility should not extend to her actions after the fact.

But as Dennis Miller says, "but then again, I could be wrong."

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Debora:

WOW What a story!!

My opinion: When a drunk driver gets into a car to drive (and all of us have done it one time or another), You take so many responsibilities upon yourself. Loosing all your possessions -- to jail -- we all know the consequenses -- the point is at the time you dont think about that -- you are impaired to think straight and who would get into a car sober and think the same things? I sure dont I get into the car to get to the store -- I dont think everytime that I Could I loose everything in my life because I made an illegal turn and ruin someones life? No I dont I put on my seat belt and hope of the best and go about my business. Was she wearing her seat belt? Or was she in a car that had airbags? She should be accountable for her own life not him. It was her choice -- and obviously what she said "when its your time" she wasnt too upset about it? :)

In this case what if the driver wasnt drunk, what if he or she was sober and hit someone that wouldnt accept medical treatment? Would you have been convicted then? Boy the day it comes to that I want bumper stickers telling me who is who so I can stay as far away as possible!! I work in the Body Shop business and I see alot of wrecks and fatalities. Some people are really stupid ...and are so stupid they dont see it...they will wreck the rent-a-car while theirs is in the shop being fixed. I think I would need more info on the (convicted driver) his back ground and if he had other problems with driving before I could convict on just what you have here. I sure don't want to be "protected" from myself, thanks. I do a fine job without anyone!!

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Jonas:

Certainly we recognize the driver at fault for drinking and driving. The driver chose to have a drink, and that lead to impared driving which caused the accident. Now had he not hit a person, and for instance merely caused property damage at the crash scene the charge and sentence would be much less.

That a Manslaughter charge was brought against the driver shows how seriously we take Drunk Driving these days, and indeed we humanists believe in free will and personal responsibility that goes along with that. But imagine using the irony of the religious argument to defend the drunk driver. "It was her time to go," as evidenced by the victim's death without the forbidden blood transfusion. The driver was merely acting under God's divine influence to call this loyal follower home. If you believe in God, and His influence, then you can never say what is Human Free will and God's divine intervention.

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Alex:

Happy New Year Cliff,

Thats an interesting moral situation -- although quite resolvable I think. At the point at which the JW refused contextual medical treatment she took ultimate responsibility for her survival -- a choice that as a victim of a substantial accident she was desperately ill-equipped to make. She effectively diverted her essential victimhood towards death not life -- she chose a death/afterlife narrative for herself out of the situation.

The drunk driver is responsible for severely injuring her and should face full legal penalties for this; it is not, however, his fault that her religious beliefs prevented her from receiving appropriate medical attention. Whilst not condoning drink-driving, for this reason I think it is unfair to charge him with manslaughter. That she died of the injuries that he undoubtedly caused him is now an unavailable certainty in the light of refusing to try to survive.

Our moral universe being a living and breathing thing is based not in a pre-modern, pre-medicine, context -- but takes account of what it is possible to do as well as what has happened. Heroic efforts to save a life need to take account of the technology available to enact those efforts. Hence a doctor at the scene of an accident will feel more morally liable if he fails to treat a patient when he has the necessary equipment than if he is caught out without his little black bag. "There was nothing I could do" is a perfectly acceptable moral defence.

We have to hold on to the view that JWs choose to hold their self-defeating views on the nature of blood. They choose to play fast and loose with life and are happy to act irresponsibly towards themselves and their offspring under a pre-modern superstition that is unsupportable as a moral position in wider modern liberal culture. If we aren't to be patronising to religious belief in general those in post-religious society have to keep in view that people choose to continue to uphold beliefs in whatever deity/metaphysics. In so doing we can honour their democratic rights to believe whatever unless and until it affects the rights of others, minors, dependants etc. This is the point at which a JW father letting his JW wife die of blood-loss after a car accident, rendering his children motherless, is guilty of a crime towards them that he wouldn't be had she died later in spite of full medical treatment.

Best to you

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Ray:

All I can say about the California case is what was on a bumper sticker -- "Freedom is the distance between church and state." No way can we allow God's law to supplant secular law in our court rooms. However, what chance do we have with judges and jurors who are fanatical believers.

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Roger:

I must agree with the majority. The right to practice one's beliefs are expressly guaranteed in the Constitution. I was proud to see so many supporting this view.

Thanks! Keep smilin'! -rog

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A. B.:

The fact is, his irresponsible actions lead to the events that ended her life.. to my understanding, that is the basic definition of manslaughter, so I believe that the sentance was right on.

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Tom Scanlon

June 24, 2000

This may sound cold, but I believe ALL "true believers" should rely on their gods when they are injured or ill instead of relying on science. They usually reject science in favor of their deity until stark reality enters the picture.

Hmm!

TomAZ.

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Paulie

Thursday, November 23, 2000

To Cliff,

Thanks Bobbi, ditto!!

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Melissa

September 30, 2001

Well Cliff,

I have to say that these are interesting comments, but nobody is looking at the total picture here. The truth being that her taking a blood transfusion does not guarantee her life being saved. How many people actually even survive a blood transfusion? And then the side effects that happen afterwards?

In my personal experience blood transfusions are not what doctors have made them out to be. Doctors' carelessness of not having to make sure everything is sewed up properly because they can rely on giving the patient more blood is part of the problem. The body rejecting the blood is another, and then we have diseases that they accidentally let through. Thirty-nine people died from mono in a month's time last year because of blood transfusions that were not screened properly. At least half of these people would have survived without any kind of fluid added to their blood and therefore would not have died! Did the doctor giving the transfusion go to jail for manslaughter? Or the people who did not check properly? No!

Five of my friends were in a car crash. Two of them were Jehovah's Witnesses. The doctor wanted to give one of them a blood transfusion -- she had massive internal bleeding. He said even a transfusion might not save her. Her mother said no blood. They used a special glucose mixture to build up the volume of fluid in the blood stream instead. They operated, she was in a coma for three months, and fifteen years later she is alive and walking. My other friend, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. They stopped his internal bleeding eventually. But, because of his body rejecting the blood constantly, they eventually had to quit giving him more blood and go to just fluid. He got so many infections from the blood they had given him that he stayed sick for years. In fact, his injuries never healed properly and he can barely walk.

There are two sides to every coin. What people don't know is the body doesn't need someone else's blood pumped into them to survive. You can live as long as you have enough fluid volume mixed into your blood. They also have blood regenerating medicine. You can take it before surgery and after. There are a lot of doctors out there that are actually starting to prefer this method, not to mention people too. We are becoming a more body-conscious public that realizes that not everything a doctor says is exactly true.

As for the man who was convicted of manslaughter, I agree with the jury. He made the decision to drive drunk knowing that he might kill someone. What if the woman had died even after taking the transfusion? She was 55 years old and I am sure that played a larger factor on her recovery than the refusal of blood.

There are many blood alternatives out there and I would choose bloodless medicine after all the research I have done. I have known many people that have done both, and they have said that they would go to bloodless medicine now because of their speedy recoveries.

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Cathy Reaume

October 21, 2001

Ellen's thoughts:

We are a Jehovah Witness family. One summer night our 21 year old son didn't make it home. The hospital called to tell us our son had been in an accident and he was still talking but to get there immediately. He had been hit in the passenger side of the car. They estimated his car rolled at least six times, side to side, end for end. The other car was much larger and heavier than his and literally threw his car off the highway.

The driver of the other car was never charged. But the investigation showed that his blood alcohol level was at the border line of being impaired and because he was a diabetic, his sugar was at a border line of also making him in an impaired state.

Our son had numerous internal injuries and had to have surgery right after we arrived at the hospital. We never were able to talk to him. His heart stopped twice while in surgery and five days later had heart failure and died. After the surgery the Doctors told us he had lost a lot of blood and really needed a transfusion and that he most likely would not make it without the transfusion. Because of our beliefs we knew how he would have wanted us to answer for him and we told them to do whatever they could do but no transfusions. The Doctors were excellent and very respectful to our wishes. After the funeral a co-worker who attended the funeral was visiting a friend and said she had been at a funeral for a co-workers son. Because the husband was a firefighter in our area asked what the name was. As it turned out, he was at the accident and said they had used the jaws of life to remove him from the car.

This is what makes the difference: He said "yes I really remember because he told everyone that came close to him to make sure he did not get a transfusion." My co-worker called and told me this and said she did not really know what it all meant other than it was a really odd because it turned out we also have the same last name but no relation.

It was the confirmation that we needed so we knew that we made the right decision. We lost our son but made our decision because of our religious beliefs but also made the decision that our son had already made for himself.

I believe the courts decision was right. When someone takes the risk of getting behind the wheel they are taking the risk of getting in an accident. So if a person is willing to take that risk then they should be willing to except the consequences that come with it.

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Laura

November 20, 2001

I just want to first state that I am not a JW. But I must respond to this because I hold a JW very close to my heart and I have been with him for almost 2 years -- and hopefully I will be with him for the rest of my life. But I too , am very worried about the whole blood transfusion cases within the Jehovah Witness Religion.

I do believe though, that in this certain case the woman was right in what she did in following what she believed. And I also believe that anyone who drives drunk is a murderer. No matter what. You are putting your life and other lives in danger when you drive intoxicated. No matter what happens.

I don' t believe the point here is even the woman refusing the transfusion. Because that is her relgion and what she believes --- The point here should be that this person was driving drunk. No matter what. And should pay for the consequences. He got off fairly easy in my opinion.

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Robert Probst

December 12, 2001

Seems clear to me. There is no guarantee that a blood transfusion would have done anything to save her life.

Blood is a dangerous substance, given without safeguards. Think of it as a transplant without all the anti-rejection drugs to counteract the body's reaction to a foreign substance. It is a fact that such a massive introduction of foreign tissue creates a tremendous shock to the system.

Also there are numerous alternate therapies to a blood transfusion these days, thanks to the stand Jehovah's Witnesses take. Even heart transplants are done without blood resulting in faster recovery times for the patient.

Since the woman decided that blood was out and I'm sure a competent doctor would have had numerous other procedures to choose from, to say that she killed herself is ludicrous. It would be like saying that a man who refused radiation treatment for his lung cancer (from smoking) and opted instead for chemotherapy yet died anyway, killed himself.

The drunk driver is totally guilty and got off light.

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Corinna Neeb

March 08, 2002

More information is needed. Was the death a direct consequence of her refusal of blood? My understanding is that JWs accept any medical treatment other than blood. Modern medicine is now questioning the efficacy of donor blood as superior to blood-volume expanders. Therefore, I have to wonder if these options were made available to her. And if they were utilized and she died despite medically sound treatment, would blood have saved her?

Nonetheless her situation was created by the drunk driver. His callous disregard for life is demonstrated by his act of willfully operating a vehicle while under the influence (or drinking in the first place knowing he was likely to do this after impairing himself). Perhaps this is not the case. Also, what was his blood alcohol level? What was his prior record? All of this must be put in the formula.

What if she had died of a blood clot or heart attack that, while triggered by the accident, were preexisting conditions? He would be guilty then, right?

Are we aware that there are people whose religions forbid medical intervention? If so (and if our Constitution promotes religious freedom), then we accept that driving a car has responsibilities to such people as well! If no medical treatment were unavailable for other reasons (remoteness) and she died, as she certainly would have, would he not still be guilty? The religion of the victim would not exonorate him in the case of remoteness, so why should the religious tenets she has agreed to follow, which is her Constitutional right?

The whole point, though, is that she did not cause her fatal condition.

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