Religion + The Right Of A Woman To Control Her Own Body=Murder

[I am tired, having engaged in a knockdown, drag-out session on legal ethics with a lively group of Federal bar practitioners. This was not the issue I wanted to come home to for the last post of the day. In fact, I gave up and am posting it this morning. Funny, the issue isn’t any easier now than it was yesterday.]

Charles Taze Russell, founder of Jehovah's Witnesses, and still getting kids killed since 1879.

Charles Taze Russell, founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and still getting kids killed since 1879.

A pregnant woman who was a Jehovah’s Witness checked into a Sydney, Australia hospital suffering from leukemia. She directed the staff that her treatment could not include blood transfusions, as her religious beliefs forbade them. She suffered from acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), which is treatable, and often successfully. According to The American Cancer Society, “more than 90% of patients with APL go into remission with standard induction treatment.” Pregnant women with the cancer have an 83 percent remission rate, and their babies have a high rate of survival when their mothers are diagnosed in their second or third trimesters.

In the end, the fetus and the mother died for want of proper treatment.  “Staff were distressed, grappling with what was perceived as two ‘avoidable’ deaths,” doctors at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Australia wrote in a letter published this month in the Internal Medicine Journal.

Well, they should be distressed: they aided and abetted negligent homicide.  Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Pasco High School (Dade City, Fla.)


I need this story to get the previous post out of my head.

In Mark Harris’s novel “Bang The Drum Slowly,” best known as the inspiration for the film that introduced Robert DeNiro to the movie-going public, a major league baseball team exhibits uncharacteristic kindness toward a third-string catcher who is dying of Hodgkin’s Disease. The book, like the film and the stage adaptation, is about kindness and the Golden Rule, an ethical value that seldom inspires literature or art. Kindness is not particularly exciting, but it may be the most ethical of all ethical virtues. The serious illness and impending death of someone in our life often brings the importance of kindness into sharp focus. “Everybody’d be nice to you if they knew you were dying,” says the doomed catcher, Bruce Pearson, to his room mate and champion, star pitcher Henry Wiggen.  “Everybody knows everybody is dying,” Wiggen replies. “That’s why people are as good as they are.”

Pasco High School student Vanessa Garcia  learned that she had an inoperable brain tumor when she was in elementary school. Until two years ago, treatment had kept the tumor  in remission, but the mass began growing again when she was 15. Undaunted, Garcia continued to go to school, work diligently, and keep a positive and uncomplaining outlook, earning the admiration of her classmates, teachers and school officials. Continue reading

A New Low, Until The Next One

The horrible mother with her son, who does not have cancer. There does seem to be something amiss with his face, though...

The evil  mother with her son, who does not have cancer. There does seem to be something amiss with his face, though…

I thought the woman who tricked her lesbian crush into marrying her by faking an illness and pretending to be her own doctor in e-mails to her romantic target was about as low as a human being could stoop. Before that, it was the various compassion thieves whose scams have been discussed here. In the category of despicable mothers, I thought ground zero was reached by Torry Hanson, who decided that her adopted Russian son was just too much trouble, so she bought him a one way plane ticket to Russia and shipped him back all by himself, with a note renouncing her parenthood. But then I learned about Wanetta Gibson, and I think I have abandoned the quest for the absolute worst ethical behavior, useful as it would be for establishing a scale for ethical misconduct. Human ingenuity regarding the despicable is just too vast.

Nevertheless, Susan Stillwaggon allegedly pulled a scam that could only be devised by someone whose ethics alarms are not only inoperable, but work in reverse, warning her to stop and change course when she is about to do something good.

In order to pull off a fake illness scam, the New Jersey mother told her family, friends and community that her elementary school age son had cancer. And just so he wouldn’t blow a sweet deal—you know how kids are— she told him he had cancer too.

I’m sure I will eventually hear about something more unethical and heartless than this. I’m not looking forward to it.


Facts: CBS (Philly)

Graphic: The Coming Crisis

Unethical Plaintiffs in the Case Of the Shortened Penis

Ronnie had it easy in "King's Row"---he just woke up missing his legs.

A Kentucky truck-driver, 64-year-old Phillip Seaton, went into surgery to remove his inflamed foreskin in what began as a simple circumcision.  Dr. John Patterson, the surgeon, began the procedure and saw that Seaton’s penis was riddled with cancer. He amputated more than just the foreskin, and Seaton awoke one full inch shorter than when he arrived. And Extenz wasn’t going to help.

He and his short-changed wife sued Patterson for malpractice, arguing that he had been mutilated and unmanned without his consent, and that Patterson should have performed only the circumcision, sewn him up, and consulted with the truck-driver and his wife regarding their options.

Clever law suit. We can’t blame the lawyer who took it on: a sawed-off penis is a good bet to get jury sympathy. All that is required for a lawsuit to be ethical from a lawyer’s perspective is for there to be a good-faith and reasonable belief that the suit could prevail under the law. This one could have. Generally it’s a good idea, and only polite, to ask before cutting off a piece of someone’s penis. I know it’s the rule in our house. Continue reading

Hate Thy Neighbor: the Cranston Ethics Train Wreck

Cranston, Rhode Island resident Edward Jimmis, it is fair to say, is an idiot.

That’s okay. There are a lot of idiots, and they do very well. Many of them, perhaps a majority, are even in Congress. Now, when the constituents of a Congressional districts represented by an idiot get tired of the idiocy, they have a very effective remedy. They can vote the idiot out of office, and this is fair, ethical, and effective, though not exercised nearly as often as it should be. What is the ethical response, however, when you discover that your neighbor is not only an idiot, but an especially hateful and uncivil idiot? This is the challenge facing the neighbors of Edward Jimmis. They may not have the right answer. Continue reading

When Business Rejects Ethics: the Sorabella Story

"So sorry about your wife's cancer, Carl. Let me know if there's anything we can do. Oh, by the're fired."

I usually feel that organized labor rhetoric about cruel and heartless employers is archaic and exaggerated for political effect. This story, however, is almost enough to make me pick up a sign and start picketing.

Carl Sorabella, 43, got a merit raise in November for Haynes Management,  a real estate company in Wellesley, Mass., where he has worked as an accountant for almost 14 years. Then he learned that his wife, Kathy, had been diagnosed with advanced cancer. Told that the likelihood was that she had only months to live, Carl approached his boss. Sorabella explained that his wife’s illness would require him to have flexible hours as he supported her during her tests and treatment. He assured her that he would do whatever was necessary to keep his work up-to-date and complete his duties.

She fired him anyway. Continue reading

The FDA’s Disgust Offensive: Manipulative and Wrong

Why stop at this?

I’ve never smoked.  My wife is a smoker and I am worried about her; I also think the tobacco industry is more or less despicable. Nevertheless, I find the new disgust-initiative by the FDA on cigarette package labeling  troubling. If it’s ethical, it only passes muster in a utilitarian balancing formula, and even then I think it opens the door to government abuse.

Thanks to a 2009 law, cigarette makers must add large, graphic warning labels depicting diseased lungs, a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his neck, a baby near a cloud of smoke, a dead body, a man wearing a black t-shirt with “I Quit” written across the chest and three other ugly images to packaging and advertising in the U.S. by October 2012. These will be accompanied by warning labels with messages like “Smoking can kill you” and “Cigarettes cause cancer.” In full, stomach-turning color, the new labels must occupy the top half of the front and back of  cigarette packs, and 20% of any cigarette ad’s space. The labels must also include the number of a national quit line and the current warning labels.

All this, yet the government allows the stuff to be sold. I don’t get it, frankly. If cigarettes are so bad that the FDA feels it has to use tactics this extreme, then it should have the courage to just ban them, like they ban other harmful substances. Continue reading

“Grow Your Own Marrow Donor” Ethics and Consequentialism: The Ayala Family Saga

Anissa Ayala and her custom-made bone marrow donor

Once again, the fans of that ethically corrosive twin of  “the ends justifies the means,” consequentialism, were holding court in the mass media, as the “Today Show” revisited a two-decade old ethical outrage to declare that it was all perfectly fine after all…because it worked.

Thus does television, itself dominated by ethically-dim writers, producers and stars, corrupt the public. So here we go again:

Does the fact (if it indeed is a fact) that Osama bin Laden capture and execution was facilitated by torture make torture less ethically wrong?


Do the fortuitous results of any action that was unethical from its inception change the nature of that conduct from unethical to ethical.

Again, no.

Is conceiving a child solely to provide donor bone marrow to her cancer-stricken older sister ethically acceptable as long as the sister’s cancer is cured?

Absolutely not!  But to listen to the “Today Show,” and revoltingly, the “Today Show’s” resident medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman, it is not only ethically acceptable but laudable. Because it worked.

Twenty years ago, Abe and Mary Ayala were desperate because Anissa, their 16-year-old daughter, had been diagnosed with leukemia. Chemotheraphy proved ineffective, and neither the Ayalas nor their son was a compatible bone marrow donor. The Ayalas had long before decided that two children were enough; Abe had a vasectomy. But then Mary came up with the idea of having another child in the hopes that it would be a bone marrow donor who could save Anissa’s life. Continue reading

The Giordano Decision, Sympathy and Malfunctioning Ethics Alarms

Sympathy and empathy are wonderful and admirable qualities, but they can mess up ethics alarms but good, causing them to ring out with gusto when perhaps they shouldn’t be set off at all.

This, I’m sorry to say, is what seems to be going on with the public and the media in the wake of a North Carolina judge denying Alaina Giordano primary custody of her two children,  in part because Giordano has Stage IV breast cancer, and in part because she is unemployed. Giordano is upset and nobody can blame her for that. She has also started a website exhorting readers to “Say NO! to CANCER discrimination!” There is a Facebook page (of course) rallying support for her, and it already has over 14,000 fans. An online petition to the governor called “Do Not Allow NC Judge To Take Alaina Giordano’s Children Just Because She Has Cancer ” has more than 75,000 signers.

Yet there is nothing inherently unethical, illogical or unfair about family law Judge Nancy E. Gordon awarding custody of 11-year-old Sofia and 5-year-old Bud to their father, who lives and works in Chicago, rather than to their mother, who lives in Durham, and has breast cancer that is most likely terminal. Continue reading

A Strong Consequentialist Argument for Steve Jobs’ Liver…But Is It Right?

Steve Jobs and friend

Back in June of 2009, when “Ethics Alarms” was but a twinkle in my eye, there was a momentary controversy when ailing Apple CEO Steve Jobs was able to use his enormous wealth to land on multiple regional organ transplant lists, thus vastly improving his chances of getting a precious liver transplant in time to save his life. The California native ultimately got a Tennessee liver, but critics cried ethics foul. The organ transplant distribution system is not supposed to be based on wealth: otherwise, why not just auction off livers to the highest bidders? Because most insurance companies won’t cover multiple listings, only the richest patients can afford to employ this strategy, meaning that a system that is supposed to be means-neutral favors the wealthy after all. Continue reading