Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Vampire Judges and Blood Money: Blood Donation as Criminal Sanction?

Written by Christopher Chew

Monash University

Early one September morning, plaintiffs at a rural Alabama County court in the US, were greeted with an unexpected and highly unusual offer. To quote presiding Judge Marvin Wiggins:

“There’s a blood drive outside, and if you don’t have any money, and you don’t want to go to jail, as an option to pay it, you can give blood today…bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood…as a discount rather than putting you in jail…or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money.”

The plaintiffs had been called before court because of unpaid fines, fees or restitution owing for previously adjudicated cases, mostly minor misdemeanors. Some articles reported that the “discount” consisted of $100 credit towards these unpaid monies, though it is unclear if any actually received this.

Understandably, these revelations have prompted scathing criticism. Arthur Caplan, professor of medical ethics at New York University, declaimed it as “…wrong in about 3,000 ways.” The Southern Poverty Law Centre has filed a judicial ethics complaint against Judge Wiggins, citing a ‘violation of bodily integrity’ amongst a litany of other issues with judicial process.

Evidently, a veritably Biblical plague of ethical issues are associated with the events as they unfolded. Besides potential abuse of judicial responsibilities and infringement on constitutional and legal rights, the ‘choice’ as framed is less-than-subtly coercive, and plaintiffs are given little-to-no time or counselling in considering their options, to name a few.

Yet, I wonder, is there anything inherently wrong with offering blood donation as an alternative penalty, if the current choice is between paying a hefty fine, or spending time in jail?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.