Monday, November 2, 2009

This morning Good Morning America reported a story about Jennifer Strange of California who entered a water-drinking contest run by radio station 107.9 "The End." She drank almost two gallons of water over a three hour period and died in her home several hours later of water intoxification. The jury ruled in favor of the family of Jennifer and awarded over $16 million in punitive and other damages. The jury agreed with the plaintiff that Jennifer bore no responsibility since she followed the directions of te contest, in spite of the warnings of callers-in and her own discomfort. The radio station was found to be totally responsible and negligent at not exercising proper concern for the wellbeing of their guests, and because they had not followed company policy to send the idea of the contest by their legal department.

I, too, find the radio station negligent. The disc jockey is reported at having said, "Your body is 98% water, you should be able to drink all the water you want." This is clearly not supported medically, and whereas we are, indeed encouraged to drink more water than we normally do, there is such a thing as too much. Several years ago a soldier died at Fort Benning, Georgia after a hot summer day's exercises. The problem was overconsumption of water. The effect of too much water is he opposite of too little--it dilutes the body's electrolytes rather than concentrates them--but the effect on the body is the same. It can kill.

However, and I meanno disrespect for a family in mourning, but Jennifer was a big girl who could make her own decisions. She joined the contest of her own free will. In the context of the contest she abdicated her own responsibility to listen to her own body and her own reason and to call it when it crossed the line. She placed trust in other fallible human beings rather than retain it where it needed to have been. In theological terms she did not act in total freedom.

In theological terms one has to define what true freedom is. We, as created, dependent beings, are ultimately free only to make one choice--to choose our master. We do not have it within ourselves to find ultimate meaning only within ourselves. We always choose something external to ourselves for which to live. The soldier who sacrifices his own life to save those of his battle buddies is called a hero, and rightly so. He has submitted his own good to the higher good of a greater cause of his own free will. He chose his master: the survival of his friends. The mother who foregoes new clothes each fall in order to afford clothes for her children is acting freely. She chooses her master: the good of her children. The CEO who works 80 hours a week and takes no vacations and earns an obscene salary with over-the-top benefits has acted freely. He has chosen his master: the almighty dollar.

Jesus said, "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The key is choosing the right master. A couple verses further down from the above one (John 8) Jesus says, "if the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed." Some masters are slave-drivers who leave you exhausted and abused. Only one Master is the real Master, and that is your Creator. Choosing this master sets you in the center of the truth, and allows you to take control and make clear and honest decisions. It distances you from the pressures of the context in which you are in so that you can see the truth for what it is and are not taken in by the environment. The great healer, Jesus, would never have us choose that which destroys our own selves. He would require of us the responsibility to take care of ourselves so that we can serve others in His name. Obviously this was not a choice Jennifer made.

So rather than dish out millions for punitive damages and emotional suffering for a woman who did not take basic personal responsibility, the court blamed and charged money. The court blew it.

1 comment:

Charlene said...

Fr. P - you are right on with this one. Americans have come to a point that we absolutely refuse to accept responsibility for our own actions. It is always someone else's fault and somebody has to pay and usually pay big. I wonder how many folks will find that in not taking responsibility for their own actions they will stand ashamed before the judge of the nations on that great day?? How sad. Thank you for sharing this. Charlene Smith