Melissa Ann Rowland refused to have a major surgical procedure that would increase her risk of dying by two to four times. Now, she is facing between five years and life in prison because of her choice.
Rowland decided not to have a Caesarean section that doctors said could have saved the life of her twin babies. And according to police one of the twins was stillborn because of her decision.
By attempting to prosecute Rowland for first-degree felony homicide, a dangerous precedent is being set that can potentially damage notions of free will and altruism.
The idea of pregnancy has generally been that a woman would do whatever was necessary to deliver a healthy child. This includes maintaining a proper diet, regularly visiting a doctor and heeding that doctor’s advice. However, this case brings into question whether or not a woman will be forced to do what is best for her unborn child at the risk of her own life.
If a doctor advises a mother to take prenatal vitamins or alter her diet and the mother refuses to do so, she would now, using this precedent, could be charged for endangering her child. Requiring a person to heed a doctor’s advice ultimately makes his word law rather than professional advice. This situation is absurd but even more so when considering the nature of Rowland’s case.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly half of the c-sections in the United States are performed unnecessarily. That same study showed that the United States also had a higher maternal and infant mortality rate resulting from c-section complications than ten other industrialized nations.
So, the doctor was encouraging her to have a potentially frivolous and highly risky procedure done to her body because there was a possibility that she may lose her children. The death of her son may have indicated that the procedure was necessary in Rowland’s case, but it does not justify making it illegal to use one’s own judgment in regard to personal health.
Rowland left after signing a document indicating she understood the risks to her unborn twins. If she had decided to have the c-section, she would have had to sign a waiver stating that she understood the risks. The fact that there are legal documents for her to sign, further highlights that it was her legal right to accept or refuse treatment.
Yes, there are moral obligations to risk one’s own life for a child whether it be kidney donation, bone marrow or a c-section, but there is no legal obligation. And there should not be one because it is not the role of the U.S. government to impose levels of moral obligation on its citizens.
If all they have is the court of public opinion and moral objections, which are not legally binding, Rowland must be left to deal with the implications of her decision – not just for her sake but for civil liberties in this country.