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IN RE: MATTIE BROWN a/k/a DELORES BROWN

OCTOBER 30, 1985

IN RE: MATTIE BROWN a/k/a DELORES BROWN




ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., ROBERTSON AND ANDERSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

Man has long sought to live according to his religious

 beliefs and to be let alone in the process. So living we yearn to be free of societal opprobrium and state interference. The lesson of history is that, because we are diverse, the existence of the former will lead to the latter, in consequence of which we have for all time vested each person with a legal shield adequate of design to thwart state impingement.

 This case is about the State's effort to keep alive until trial a wounded witness to two violent felonies. It is also about the efforts of that witness, who by religious faith is a Jehovah's Witness to accommodate the State only if that may be done consistent with her sincere conviction that to accept into her body the blood of another permanently separates her from her God and subjects her to eternal damnation. Because those who founded our nation believed in the primacy of individual rights in such highly personal matters, and thus placed permanently within our law rules securing to one and all the rights to the free exercise of religion and to privacy, we hold for Jehovah's Witness and against the State.

 II.

 On August 25, 1985, Mattie Brown, age 47, was shot and seriously wounded. Brown, a resident of Edwards, Mississippi, was immediately taken to the Hinds General Hospital in Jackson. Her condition required prompt surgery and the physician in charge recommended blood transfusions to support Brown during the surgery. Brown indicated that she wanted to live; that she wanted the necessary surgery; only, that she refused the transfusions. Brown recites biblical verses said to proscribe receiving the blood of others.

 Immediately after the shooting, Hinds County law enforcement authorities took into custody Brown's daughter, twenty year old Andrea Ruby Brown, and charged her with aggravated assault upon her mother. Andrea is also charged in the rat poison murder of her father, Andrew Lee Brown.

 Believing that Mattie Brown was the only person who was in a position to provide the State with eyewitness testimony in the two prosecutions against Andrea Ruby Brown, the Hinds County District Attorney's swung into action. That office applied to the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi for an order requiring that, incident to the needed surgery, Brown receive blood transfusions despite her religious beliefs. The District Attorney's purpose was to avoid the risk that a critical witness would die before trial. Proceeding ex parte on August 26, 1985, the Chancery Court entered the order as requested. On August 29, 1985, Brown appeared through counsel

 and moved to vacate the order, asserting her religious beliefs and her rights to the free exercise thereof and to privacy. The Chancery Court overruled and denied the motion to vacate.

 The contemplated surgery took place and Mattie Brown did receive blood transfusions. Notwithstanding, Brown insisted that the issue was not moot and brought an emergency appeal to this Court. The matter received further urgency when on September 11, 1985, this Court was advised that Brown would require additional surgery in connection with which her surgeon had again recommended blood transfusions, to which, as before, Brown objects.

 After receiving briefs of counsel for Mattie Brown and the State regarding the matter, this Court heard oral argument on September 12, 1985. That afternoon the Court announced that the orders of the Chancery Court of August 26 and 29 would be vacated and directed that Mattie Brown not be required to submit to or receive a transfusion of blood against her will, notwithstanding any interest the State of Mississippi may claim in the matter. We further announced that this opinion would issue in due course articulating the basis and contours of that decision.

 The posture of the matter on September 12, 1985, was this: Mattie Brown, age 47, was an alert and competent adult. She was not pregnant and, insofar as the record reflects, she had no dependent children. Her attending physician was of the opinion that she was in need of prompt surgery. Brown insisted that she wanted this surgery. Notwithstanding that she had received one court ordered whole blood transfusion, Brown objected to another. Brown's attending physician was of the opinion that her chances for recovery from the surgery without the availability of blood were "fair" . Obviously, the chances of recovery would have been markedly increased with blood available. *fn1 Knowing these things, Brown made a determination that she would claim her rights to the free exercise of religion and to privacy and asked this Court to prohibit any further transfusions. Our Order of September 12, 1985, granted this relief.

 III.

 Before considering the merits a point need be observed. We are presented Mattie Brown's claim of two rights--a right to the free exercise of her religious beliefs and a right of privacy. If those rights be held to include the right, as a competent adult, to refuse a blood transfusion, the matter is at an end, unless the State can point to some competing right

 vested in it by some valid rule which is a part of our positive law. Rights are subject to compromise only when they collide with conflicting rights vested in others.

 To be sure, a right may be entailed. The freedom afforded Mattie Brown to exercise her religion and otherwise be let alone, though fundamental, is not without limits. Those limits, however, must be found within the right and the rule creating it. Once the right has been defined and shaped by the contours of the rule--the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article 3, Sections 18 and 32 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 -- it prevails against mere interests, public or private, no matter how compelling.

 By definition rights give the individual zones of unchecked discretionary action that others, whether private citizens or governmental authorities, may not invade. They are entitlements of an individual he or she may claim at his or her election. They may be claimed no matter how inconvenient society or its members may deem it. That they may be so claimed is what defines them as rights. Read v. State, 430 So.2d 832, 840 (Miss. 1983). They are, if you will, the individual's protection against the tyranny of the majority and against the power of the state. They are what gives meaning to that article of American faith: that each human being is unique, that by virtue of his humanity he possesses an unalienable and undeniable dignity and worth that he is entitled to the maximum basic personal liberty consistent with like liberty for each other.

 We give these theories reality when we enforce secured rights at times that society finds it most inconvenient, when compelling reasons are presented why in the absence of the right the individual and her (to others) puny claim ought be shunted aside. Few such occasions arise, perhaps because it is known in this state that we do not sacrifice rights to mere interests. See Read v. State, 430 So.2d at 840; Brooks v. State, 209 Miss. 150, 155, 46 So.2d 94, 97 (1950); Fisher v. State, 145 Miss. 116, 134, 110 So. 361, 365 (1926).

 IV.

 Claimed here are two rights said to have been vested in each person within this state: the right of free exercise of one's religious beliefs and the right to privacy. We will consider first Brown's claim that her right of free exercise of her religious beliefs includes the right to refuse a blood transfusion.

 The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the federal sovereign's interference with the free exercise of religion. That prohibition has been extended to the State of Mississippi. See Wallace v. Jaffree,___ U.S. ___, 105 S. Ct. 2479, 2487, 86 L.Ed.2d 29, 39 (1985); ...


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