So, over at Pith (and, now the I’ve googled it, at every Nashville media outlet), they have this brief story:
Lateshia Coleman, a 34-year-old woman whose son died 16 days after his birth in June. He wasn’t here very long because when he was born, police say his mother tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and opiates at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. After the Department of Child Services handed the case over to Metro Nashville Police, an investigation led to a recent indictment. Coleman is now in jail, which may not be entirely unfamiliar to her. She’s been booked on suspicion of prostitution, shoplifting and possession of paraphernalia in the past. Now she’s charged with reckless homicide and aggravated assault.
And, of course, this tragedy is used to illustrate what a bad mother Coleman is. As if it’s self-evident who’s in the wrong here. Let me get this out of the way: Of course I think that using drugs during your pregnancy is stupid. I also know that the reason they call it “addiction” is because you can’t just magically give it up, no matter how much you want to, even when you’re pregnant, because babies aren’t magic and the presence of one in your uterus does not give you super-human powers.
But there are lots of questions here that are unanswered. Questions that should trouble us. Shall we start couting them?
1. Why did Vanderbilt drug test her?
2. More importantly, why weren’t the results of that drug test protected by doctor-patient privilege?
3. Does Vanderbilt drug test every pregnant woman?
4. If so, what are their standards for deciding when the police should be involved?
5. What did the baby actually die of? Though the writer at Pith thinks that it’s self-evident that, if a woman tests positive for drugs during delivery and the baby tests positive for drugs, if the baby later dies, it must be because of the mother’s drug us. But a majority of women are given powerful painkillers during labor and, depending on how long labor lasts, traces of those drugs will be found in a baby’s system and most babies don’t die shortly after they’re born.
6. Coleman is being charged with reckless homicide and aggravated assault, but she didn’t assault the baby in the hospital. She didn’t give her child drugs. She took drugs while she was pregnant and two weeks after she gave birth, the baby died. It may be apparent that her drug use contributed to the death of her child, but how can a woman, who did something to herself, be charged as if she was intentionally doing it to her child, when legally, she doesn’t yet have a child. Is the State of Tennessee now claiming a legal definition of personhood for a fetus?
7. Doesn’t it seem weird that, if a fetus has legal personhood, that the legal personhood he or she has isn’t that of a child? And yet Coleman isn’t being charged with child endangerment or child abuse. Is the State not sure it can prove a fetus is a child under the law?
And 8., most importantly, what does this matter to you? After all, you’re not a drug-using shoplifting prostitute.
But say you’re almost at the end of your pregnancy and you are out tooling around in your vehicle and your cell phone rings and you reach down to fumble through your purse and you aren’t paying attention and you rear-end the car in front of you. It is a completely preventable accident–you should have been paying attention to what you were doing–and it is completely your fault. If you killed the driver in front of you, you’d be charged, maybe even with reckless homicide.
But in this case, let’s say that it’s you who needs to be rushed to the hospital and while you’re there, your baby is born, but in distress. And, after two weeks, it dies. Should you be charged with reckless homocide?
What if the baby is stillborn? Should you be charged with reckless homicide?
Okay, so what if you’re six months along and, when you go for your check-up, the doctor can’t find a heartbeat? The fetus, sadly, seems to have just died. Should the doctor call the police so that they can investigate whether you did anything wrong?
We are operating under a fallacy here, one brought about by modern medicine and wishful thinking, that the vast majority of fertilized eggs will lead to healthy one-year old babies as long as the woman doesn’t fuck it up. But the truth is that there are many, many, many more fertilized eggs than ever result in healthy one-year old babies. And most of the time, it’s not obvious why.
And my question for you is–is it then okay to hold the woman legally responsible for that? Today it’s finding something, anything, that might stick to Coleman. But what if it’s you?
Do you want the police judging what you do while you’re pregnant, looking for evidence of wrong-doing?