Kimberly Lightsey, 30, was being sentenced on four counts of child abuse for leaving her four children, ages 2 to 11 at the time, at a hotel while she went out to play. She had an arrangement with another mother in the hotel to watch the children, but that woman also was partying hard, it seems—so hard that she forgot what room Lightsey’s children were in. Meantime, one of Lightsey’s children, who was confined to a wheelchair, rolled out into the hallway and fell over.
Prosecutors asked for a 32-month jail sentence, but Judge Ernest Jones Jr. offered Kimberly a chance to avoid jail time. He would give her two years of house arrest and 13 years of probation, provided this aspiring Mother of the Year agreed not to have any more kids during that period.
She took the deal, but now The American Civil Liberties Union and her lawyer are wondering if the sentence is legal. My guess: it’s not, but that isn’t the issue. Let’s say this is within a judge’s power, and the sentence is legal. Your Ethics Alarms Quiz Question, the first of the new year, is this:
Is it ethical?
I don’t think so.
Tom didn’t mention it by name, but I think that one of the inalienable rights is to have children if you want them. It may be unethical to have kids when you can’t afford them , or care for them, or are the worst parent this side of Octomom. But abusing a right doesn’t give the law, or the government the right to take that right, except in the very narrow ways the penal system permits. Other punishments are cruel and unusual, and thus prohibited, which is why I think the conditions imposed here won’t stand. Ethically, however, the operative rule is cruel, and cruel is unethical.
Since Kimberly is 30, a 13 year forced hiatus on child-bearing is in all likelihood a lifetime ban. That is too close to judicially ordered sterility for my ethics alarms. The sentence also fails the Ethics Chess test. It creates the possibility of terrible ethical dilemmas developing later. What if she becomes pregnant accidentally? She will be motivated to get an abortion, presumably. And if she believes that life begins at conception, then what? Isn’t the sentence then indistinguishable from court-ordered abortion?
This is an abuse of power, using the threat of imprisonment as extortion to force a woman to give up a right that must be for her to exercise or not, without government interference.
Pointer: Tim Levier