Woman charged with murder for refusing C-section

March 12, 2004 | 22 comments
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Hey, all you legal eagles! Somebody please explain what in the world the Utah D.A. who’s charging Melissa Rowland with murder for refusing a cesaearean section could be thinking.

22 Responses to Woman charged with murder for refusing C-section

  1. Clark Goble on March 12, 2004 at 7:14 pm

    They’ve said it is depraved indifference. The big issue is actually why she refused the C-section. She is denying the doctor’s charge saying she’d already had a C-section before.

    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,595048573,00.html

  2. Julie in Austin on March 12, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    NPR reported that she didn’t want a scar (due to ‘vanity’) but then later intimated that she was mentally ill.

  3. lyle on March 12, 2004 at 10:07 pm

    1st degree murder sounds about right to me…

    sounds like she had knowledge about the effects of not getting medical help; and then chose to kill a human life to save her own ‘skin…’ literally…

    rather cold blooded.

  4. Steve Evans on March 12, 2004 at 10:26 pm

    I think Lyle just summed up what the D.A. was thinking.

  5. Renee on March 12, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    This is a sticky issue. All the facts aren’t in so the public doesn’t know for sure why she refused the C-section. The broader issue is whether or not people are compelled to get medical care for themselves and/or their children. Remember the kid from Utah and the chemo thing last year?

    There have been women got pregnant, discovered they had cancer, and opted to carry the child instead of aborting, costing their own life. Should they be charged with suicide?

    I don’t know what the answers are, but I know the questions have many facets.

  6. Kim Siever on March 13, 2004 at 12:12 am
  7. Mardell on March 13, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    How far do you want to take this?

    What about a woman who doesn’t have an ultrasound, and could have discovered earlier about a fixable medical problem? So, are women required to have ultrasounds or be charged with manslaughter?

    What about a woman who doesn’t take prenatal vitamins because they make her throw up? If her child is stillborn, will she be charged? Or a woman who doesn’t think that surgery is right for religious reasons, and wants to be “natural”? Or women who choose to have babies at home rather than the hospital, are they liable if a complication arises and the baby dies?

    The bottom line is that this blurs the line between acceptable and not regulation of pregnant women. It starts messing with procreation rights and is a bad idea. Even movement and action can increase the risk of miscarriage. Are all pregnant women to be kept in beds for their entire pregnancy, or risk manslaughter charges?

    Understandably, the DA in this case is a man.

  8. Mardell on March 13, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    Also, cesearean is a very serious operation. So maybe she thought it would be better to lose a child than to be laid up for months after a serious operation, maybe not be able to take care of two children, especially if one is not doing well. It’s her medical decision. Are we going to force surgery on mothers? These are the things you get to weigh as a mother.

  9. Karen on March 13, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    Kristine. Would you mind cutting and pasting a link to the article you are referring to? I can’t get it through the link button for some reason, and am interested in reading the details.

    thanks!

    Karen

  10. cooper on March 13, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    She’s obviously mentally ill. That’s where the ball was dropped. If she were truly receiving ample medical care, it would have been diagnosed and dealt with. This is a typical example of how our society likes to apply the rules. Allow the mentally ill their rights to live their lives and then when mistakes are made, hold them fully responsible. She will be evaluated and most likely found mentally ill and not competent to stand trial. It is a travesty. The mentally ill in this country are throw-aways or invisible americans. No one wants them to deal with their problems, until they make an error in judgement.

    It is so sad.

  11. clark goble on March 13, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    Cooper, one big problem in America was the supreme court decisions back in the 80′s that basically makes it so society *can’t* do anything for the mentally ill. (i.e. require meds be taken) Its a very complex situation with few good answers.

    While one of the areas I’m more liberal in is medical care, I don’t think even that would resolve the problems. The problem is that the very existence of mental illness challenges many of the assumptions regarding agency, freedom, and responsibility that our society tends to base itself on.

  12. cooper on March 13, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Yes Gordon, that is the “scapegoat” statement always used. There is still plenty that could have been done for this woman prior to her going AMA. Was she seen by a competent Psych? Was it even noted that she was irrational? Or was it noted by the statements mentioned in the article: “She didn’t want to disfigure her body!” Excuse me???? Was competent medical care really given? Where oh where was the hospital scoial worker? Yes every hospital in America is mandated to have them on staff. Usually though they work in skeleton departments just covering the hospital’s required base. Over worked and often ignored as the person to turn to when things really get out of hand. Then suddenly it falls to the social worker to bat clean up when something goes wrong. Jaded? Just a bit. The medical profession extremely devalues and disrespects a social workers role as a necessary evil but really doesn’t understand what their purpose is. Clinical Social workers have more education than most RNs on staff but are not respected enough to always bring them in for consults. This whole incident could have been prevented by utilizing competent staff and pursuing proper channels.

  13. Karen on March 13, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    Is anyone else really surprised at the D.A’s decision to bring first degree murder charges? It seems that along with serious problems of proving causation, that the D.A. will have a heck of a time proving intent–mandatory for 1st degree murder. How does one prove that she could even foresee let alone intend the outcome of death by insisting on a vaginal delivery. Seems like it could become a battle of the expert opinion–leaving the strange outcome, if she is convicted, that it would be based on expert opinion on causation (combined with argument on foreseeability).

    Also, and maybe a Utah licensed lawyer could answer this, but I had assumed that all 1st degree murder convictions were eligible for the death penalty in Utah. Is that true? If so, that adds one more fairly disturbing level to this case, and virtually guarantees a nationwide media circus.

    Were the D.A.’s just hoping she would do anything to plead down from first degree murder, guaranteeing a psychic victory for them when she winds up with prison time.

    I’m really quite disturbed by this whole incident, especially considering the possibility of mental illness…something never dealt with well in the justice system.

    Karen

  14. clark goble on March 13, 2004 at 5:19 pm

    There’s a lot of missing information in the reporting on this case. But my understanding is that the lady *left* the hospital and several others. Unless I’m mistake the hospital can’t restrain someone to talk to a counselor simply because they think she may be mentally ill. (Something we must point out isn’t established)

    As I said, we fundamentally have a difficult time with the mentally ill because our conception of freedom assumes everyone is a rational free agent. Therefore we treat the mentally ill as if they were as well. While I think that there ought to be more universal health care that includes mental illness treatment, the fact is that the only way it would work is via force. Something I don’t think our society would embrace.

    Its very easy to say counseling would help – and perhaps in some cases it would. But unless the person is a threat to others or their life, nothing can be done to touch them. And most people have such a negative view of being considered mentally ill that they resist such analysis.

    Perhaps in this case a counselor could have established that she was a threat to her children. But I’m not convinced this was a likely outcome.

  15. cooper on March 13, 2004 at 7:56 pm

    A licensed clinician can put ANYONE on a 72 hour hold for evaluation without their permission. If the staff had been keen on the fact that she was unstable (which is obvious to me) that should have been the course of action. If she were to go AMA while awaiting to see a clinician then the police could have been called and she could have been picked up by them and returned for evaluation.

    These are fail-safes put into the system so these types of things don’t happen. Unfortunately it starts with the primary caregiver.

  16. Kristine on March 14, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    It seems to me, though, that her reasons for refusing surgery should be legally irrelevant (ethically, the story seems more difficult, and it should be fairly easy to agree that her choice was ethically wrong). Isn’t there pretty well-established case law that says a person cannot be required to undergo a medical procedure (e.g. organ donation) to save the life of another? If a father can’t be required to donate his kidney to his child, then we can’t possibly require a mother to submit to a C-section, right?

  17. Logan on March 15, 2004 at 10:48 am

    I’m with you, Kristine. While it’s hard to imagine that a mother wouldn’t want to follow the advice of her doctor and give her baby the best chance of survival, it’s hard to see how she could be required to do it.

  18. Michelle on March 15, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    The interesting question is BYU Law Professor Marguerite Driessen’s role in the media coverage – she was on national news programs this morning, and has been heavily quoted in the news reports. She states her position as pro-choice, and repeats her worries about this case’s effect on women’s “choices” and such. Do you think BYU has a problem with such statements coming from a BYU Law Professor? I remember her reputation on campus as being the “out-there” liberal professor, and I thought I had heard that she had been fired, but I guess not. Anyone have any more info?

  19. Leon on March 15, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    Rowland has been previously convicted of child endangerment, stemming from a 2000 incident in which she punched another daughter for eating a candy bar in a store without paying for it.
    (Foxnews)
    It happened in Pennsylvania. Rowland screamed, “Now I have no money for cigaretes!”
    I hold my breath whenever I hear of crazies from Utah. She must have just gone there for her health. The surviving baby had drugs in her.

  20. cooper on April 9, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Just a note, SL Trib reports charges were reduced to two felony counts of child endangerment. She plead guilty. Hopefully, she’ll get the mental health help she needs.

  21. Sheri on May 31, 2005 at 10:44 am

    I must say that I am undecided in all of this. I am pregnant at the moment and the doctors are trying to tell me that I have to have a c-section also. I am not exactly cooperative about it because I have had 5 natural births since my c-section 17 years ago. There have been no complication with any of my subsequent births. The only reason they want me to have one now is because they said that if you have ever had one, you must have another. Like I said, there is no real reason at the moment. If there were a complication or my child was in danger, I would comply, but not just because they want to. I don’t think it is fair that they are trying to force me. I was told that if I refuse, that they will refuse treatment. I am not mentally ill. I just feel like I should have a choice.

  22. Julie in Austin on May 31, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Sheri–

    Sounds like you need another doctor. I was in the opposite situation (had had a natural birth and then chose a c/s) and I shopped around until I found a doctor that was willing to do what I wanted. I would suggest that you do the same.

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