It saddens and upsets me to have to write this. But I have to write this. Despite our community’s outrage over the Doug Burns’ hypoglycemia case, there are times when the lines between “medical condition” and wrongdoing are not so clear…
Two local diabetic drivers here in the San Francisco Bay Area were recently involved in separate car accidents in which people were killed. Both drivers were experiencing insulin shock at the time.
Both drivers were charged with “vehicular manslaughter,” but the charges against one were later dropped “because prosecutors said they didn’t think they could get a conviction.” Santa Clara County prosecutors are still proceeding against the second driver, believing they “have a solid case” against the 52-year-old man, who killed a 20-year-old couple in a fiery crash.
The newspaper pontificates:
“The cases highlight a complex and emotional debate: To grieving families who believe diabetes can be managed, drivers must be held accountable. But the diabetic community says it’s not that simple, because insulin use is hardly an exact science.”
You’re damn right this is a hard one. We all know how easy it is to take too much insulin. Are these two men guilty of negligence in managing their disease? Doubtful… more likely they each just had one extremely bad day.
My point in supporting Doug Burns was that people experiencing severe hypoglycemia are in no way acting purposefully nor are they cognizant of their actions. Even though they may be mobile — and verbal — they are actually incapacitated during a severe low, in the same way as someone experiencing a seizure or a blackout. Thus they cannot be treated as criminals for events that may occur while in this state.
But what about when people die? What then?
I don’t pretend to have the answer.
The prosecutor in the Santa Clara County case claims the diabetic man charged was an unsafe driver because he took too much insulin. “Too much of any drug, even if it’s a prescribed drug, can cause a person to be under the influence,” he says.
The victims’ families have little sympathy for “diabetic episodes” either. And I can’t blame them. If it were my child who’d died, you bet I’d be demanding some punishment.
“When a loved one is killed, everybody wants to have somebody held accountable,” says Redwood City DA Steve Wagstaffe (yes, the very same official we lobbied).
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a loved one in this way. But as a Type 1 diabetic myself, I can imagine that the pain of having done such a thing during a hypoglycemic episode cuts almost as deep.