Give blood or go to jail – Alabama
Judge Marvin Wiggins of Marion, Alabama, is offering destitute people who owe court fees a dangerous choice: donate blood, or risk going to jail. According to audio posted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, recorded in September on the day of a blood drive, Wiggins allegedly told those with fines: “If you do not have any money, and you don’t want to go to jail – you can give blood today”, adding: “consider that a discount”.
Wiggins’s choice is a terrible, likely unconstitutional and ethically dubious proposition, which could have potentially mortal consequences for the public blood supply. This kind of rampant capitalism, in which a local court essentially says: ‘value will be extracted from you, akin to squeezing blood from a stone’ is a barbaric violation of the rights of the poor…
Keep in mind that a 1983 supreme court case, Bearden v Georgia, prohibits judges from “imprisoning people who are too poor to pay their legal debts”. This still happens, sadly, even though the Bearden ruling effectively made debtors prisons illegal. While judges are allowed to mandate alternatives to incarceration for indigent debtors, such as performing community services, biomedical ethicists would probably say forcing them to give up their blood under threat of imprisonment doesn’t fly.
The Southern Law Center has filed an ethics complaint against Judge Wiggins for enacting “a violation of bodily integrity”, and the New York Times quotes a medical ethicist calling this plan “wrong in about 3,000 ways”.
Not that reason, rationality or American constitutional law has any resemblance to governance in the Confederacy.