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Dave Brisbin

Power to Choose

Co-facilitating a debrief for a medical team that was emotionally stressed by a case in which a baby died after drowning in his bathtub. And if that wasn’t traumatic enough, the mother was charged for leaving her baby alone in the tub while under the influence of drugs. As the staff is caring for the baby, the police are in the hospital room arresting the mother, cuffing her, taking her into custody. The medical staff know the baby will not make it and confront the police, asking that the mother be allowed to stay as long as her baby is alive. The police relent, but stand guard in the room and won’t uncuff the mother.

She backs against the bed…trying to touch her baby.

It’s a classic clash of cultures between law enforcement and medical care. It’s not that the medical staff doesn’t know or care what the mother did; they are horrified. But where law enforcement sees the mother as offender and the room as a crime scene, the medical staff sees the offender as a mother and the room as a place of care.

More broadly, it’s a clash between justice and mercy, macro and micro where neither side is wrong nor fully right in each other’s contexts. This mother must face the law and what justice demands, but as one nurse said, in that moment we needed to let her grieve over her baby.

The medical team was in moral distress.

Being constrained from doing what they believed was ethical at the bedside, they were outraged at the action of law enforcement, who were also constrained by the law, whatever they may have been feeling. But if we can understand the necessary shift between macro law and micro compassion, the need for both, we can more easily understand the actions of those working in a different context.

In Matthew 5, Jesus shifts us from macro law to micro compassion over and over, showing us how we can live well between the two, fulfilling both.

Even as we accept macro constraints, we can still choose the character of our micro life—compassion, connection, respect. How we live under the law is always our choice. Jesus is giving us back the awareness of our own power to choose. No one can take that from us.


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