Monday, 8 September 2014

Life or Death Choices

It was a really big August for news that made me angry. Michael Brown's death in Ferguson and the subsequent police action was and is still preposterous. Anita Sarkeesian having to leave her home because of credible death threats is nuts. The coverage of suicide following Robin Williams' death was very problematic. But before all of that, the day before my second daughter was born, news was breaking about a woman who had been arrested for endangering her child by letting her child play in the park alone.

Debra Harrell had a tough decision to make between actively watching over her 9-year-old daughter or going to work. She needed the money she made at McDonald's to pay her rent and buy food to eat. Exposing her daughter to the danger of playing alone for several hours was just the price she had to pay to pay the bills.

I could point out that if park is so dangerous that sending a 9-year-old there is criminal then the police could probably find better things to do than arresting the children's mothers. But let's accept, for the sake of argument, the absurd idea that leaving a 9-year-old in a park is criminal negligence.

Suppose you have a 9-year-old child who is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctors aren't quite sure how bad things are. They can do surgery followed by radiation and chemo or they can just do radiation and chemo. The surgery has a higher chance of accidentally killing your child or of causing damage to other areas of the brain, but it also has a better chance of dealing with the cancer. No one can give clear odds on anything.

Are you are negligent parent if you choose surgery because you are exposing your child to a life-threatening situation? Are you a negligent parent if you choose not to do the surgery? Of course not, parents have to make life and death decisions for their kids. That's how life is.

We may be appalled that a woman living in a country with as much wealth as the USA could be making life or death decisions about putting food on the table versus adequately supervising her child. That doesn't make either choice negligence. It's just a mother doing what she has to do for her kid. Which is more risky: playing in the park all day or becoming homeless?

If we are, in fact, appalled at this situation then the solution ought to be the change the system that allows this to happen. Instead we built a system that just heaps on the misery. Things are not getting better for Harrel or her child - unless media coverage of the event has caused some kind of turnabout they are getting worse. Richer people who have the resources to actually feed and house their children without anxiety have created a system to oppress the poor in one more way.

No comments:

Post a Comment