UNETHICAL ASPECTS OF BREAKTHROUGH'S "HOLD HARMLESS" RELEASE
Before participants begin the four day Breakthrough (formerly called Momentus) training, they are required to sign a "Hold Harmless/ Release and Arbitration Agreement" (hereafter called HHR). If they sign the form, participants then release all Breakthrough staff and entities "from personal, physical, psychological or emotional injuries, distress, or death arising from or in any way related to the TRAINING.. This release from liability includes loss, damage or injury resulting from the negligence of" Breakthrough's staff, parent organization, and local sponsors (HHR paragraph 12).
While this release may be legal, aspects of it are unethical, both by commonly accepted standards of justice and by Breakthrough's own standards.
We all have a sense that whoever inflicts a loss, damage or injury on others should do whatever they can to restore the loss or heal the injury. This is the basis for criminal or civil actions which require restitution.
It makes sense that if your neighbor breaks your window, your neighbor should pay to have it replaced. But imagine this scenario: your neighbor is planning and a party, and thinks there is a risk that he will break your window during the party. So he requires you to sign a release which says that you accept that there is a risk involved in the activities which will take place during his party, and that if he breaks your window, you will not hold him responsible for it, but will be happy to pay the consequences yourself. We would all be appalled at the audacity of a neighbor who would even suggest such a thing.
Yet, Breakthrough's Hold Harmless Release does this. It requires all participants to sign off on justice and release Breakthrough from responsibility for any damages it inflicts on them.
The Release explicitly releases Breakthrough from responsibility, not only from accidental injury, , but from negligence, wrongful acts, and omissions-- apparently even those done intentionally. It also states that the risks are involved in the Training itself, not just in people's reactions to it. As the Release states:
"(I understand) the risks involved in the TRAININGS and activities" (Paragraph 11)
"This release from liability includes loss, damage or injury resulting from the negligence of (Breakthrough's entities)... from any other cause or causes." (Paragraphs 13 and 12)
"This shall apply to all claims including allegations that there have been wrongful acts or omission by (Breakthrough's entities) either intentionally or otherwise." (Paragraph 19)
"...including any claims caused by the negligence of the indemnified parties." (Paragraph 22)
"...I do not expect the TRAINING to be administered with the standard of care expected of trained mental healthy professionals." (Paragraph 7)
Many nonprofit organizations ask for releases of liability for accidental injury (particularly for youth events). But the Breakthrough release stands apart in that it requires that participants not hold Breakthrough accountable for even negligence, intentional acts and any cause. In other words, even if Breakthrough was plainly guilty of injuring participants purposely or by negligence, participants still could not seek restitution through the courts. (It seems to allow arbitration under certain circumstances.)
Overall, this release indicates that Breakthrough has a resistance to being held accountable for its actions. Breakthrough clearly tries to eliminate any responsibility is may have for injuries or damage to participants.
It is ironic that Breakthrough should avoid responsibility for its actions toward others, while preaching responsibility as one of its tenets. Three of Breakthrough's trainers wrote a book Killing the Victim before the Victim Kills You (Derek Watson, Daniel Tocchini, Larry Pinci, 1997; hereafter called KTV) which speaks of responsibility and accounting:
"The purpose He (God) sets before every man and woman is to be governed by love; to be responsible to another; to love as I would have another love me. Love is the soil from which all relationships are born and responsibility the foundation upon which they are built." (Pp. 40-41)
"We do bear responsibility for the state of our communities; we are our brothers' keepers." (Pp. 44-45)
"Responsibility, repentance and vision are central to moving form being a victim to being a victor." (P. 20).
In Breakthrough's philosophy there is a strong link between responsible living (keeping promises) and accounting for why promises were broken. The book states, "The struggle of maintaining community lies in accounting for our broken promises.... Restoration always begins with our accounting with others.... To whom are you willing and eager to account for what was missing?" (Pp. 213-214). According to KTV, it is important to avoid giving rationalization for why promises were broken (pp. 215-216), because rationalization keeps people from accounting for why promises were broken. "Whenever we break a promise, responsibility calls us to look at what was missing" (p. 217).
One author, Dan Tocchini, gives an example of responsibility and accounting. He states that he broke promises to his wife by stepping into "an all-consuming drug addiction and then into several adulterous relationships" (p. 215). He confessed this to his wife and asked forgiveness, and "she pressed me to account for the source of my sin" (p. 216). He sums up the process this way, "Confessing requires not only an admission of the act or sin, but also an accounting for why I did what I did and the attitudes that prompted my actions" (p. 217).
True accounting, the book adds, includes considering the damage done to others, "Even if I go through the motions of accounting, without a heart that is willing to consider the prices others pay for our actions, no transformation is possible" (p. 218).
The Hold Harmless Release seems to violate Breakthrough's own principles expressed in KTV in several ways.
First, the HHR acknowledges that the training involves dangers and risks of physical, psychological and emotional injuries, including death. Is it an expression of "responsible living" and love to purposely expose participants to the risk of injuries that they acknowledge may even include death?
Second, by exempting Breakthrough from liability for injuries, it appears to avoid considering the prices participants pay for the risky activities used in the training. It admits that the potential consequences of the training are very severe, and that they involved in the training itself, not just in participants' reactions to it, yet Breakthrough continues to use the risky activities anyway.
Third, HHR requires participants to sign that they assume all risks and dangers, and will not hold Breakthrough liable for injuries caused by the training. But Breakthrough never promises to keep from causing loss, damage or injury. KTV states that the word "responsible" is from a Latin word that means "to promise back" (p. 236). In other words, there should be mutual promises made. HHR is a one-sided promise, entirely benefitting Breakthrough, not the participants. Ethical practices would call for Breakthrough to promise not to injure participants, not for participants to decline to call the perpetrators to account for them. Perhaps Breakthrough rationalizes that if it doesn't promise not to harm participants, then it isn't responsible to avoid harming them (perhaps thinking that you're not responsible to keep a promise you never explicitly made).
Fourth, Breakthrough has so far given rationalizations for why some participants are injured by the training. Typically Breakthrough says that participants caused their own discomfort by not being ready to repent and change, or by not making clear that they were psychologically vulnerable before signing up for the training. This shifts responsibility for injuries from the risks involved in the training to the attitude of the participants, which allows Breakthrough to avoid accounting for its results.
Fifth, the result of the HHR is that participants are intimidated from calling for Breakthrough to give an accounting of why it injures some participants. Just as Tocchini's wife required him to give an accounting for to damage he caused her, Breakthrough should provide an accounting for why it causes injury in some participants and why it includes "activities" which carry risks and dangers of personal, psychological or emotional injury. The HHR sidesteps the need to be responsible for our community and be our brothers' keeper.
In effect, the HHR is saying "our training contains risks, but you must bear them, if it is our debt-
you should pay it, and if we are at fault, you must assume responsibility. If our training's activities
injure you, you must take the consequences." Unlike the Biblical tax collector Zacchaeus, who
showed his repentance by paying back double to those he inflicted losses on, Breakthrough does
not want to be held liable for any damages it causes. Perhaps Zacchaeus should have had his
clients sign a statement releasing him from liability.
Dr. John Juedes, 2002
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