Ethics and the Law
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It only defines and protects them. It is not the law that makes an action good or bad. It only lays down the parameters to punish those who cross the borders. It is morality that decides what is good or bad. A law that does not have its roots in morality is a poor law indeed.
It may happen that laws are made for expediency. This is often taken to mean that it is viewed in the larger context of the greater ‘good’ of the larger number in society. This ‘good’ is as perceived by the lawmakers. It is not a numbers game and should not be made into one. In the matter of legal precedent, it is important to note the exact circumstances under which a judgment is made. A skilled advocate can slant circumstances to make his point. This vital factor must be considered in any matter of legal precedent. Dr. Kannamma Raman has indicated this factor where she points to nebulous conditions under which legal systems operate, especially in terms of punishment meted out to persons who participate in euthanasia. Obviously, compassion must be used to understand what swayed the perpetrator. This must be seriously considered in meting out punishment.
When there is an anomaly between the law as it exists and the punishment to be meted out there seems to be merit in the demand to change the law. This has happened in the Netherlands, in some American states and at least one state in Australia. Polls have been conducted to show the willingness on the part of doctors to perform euthanasia. These (particularly the law in the Netherlands) are cited to indicate a reluctance to penalise or even prosecute doctors who participate in measures that painlessly end the lives of their suffering patients. Obviously, a law that cannot be enforced needs a remedy. In the Netherlands they chose to resolve the anomaly by legalising the action with the expected provisos and safeguards to plug loop holes or afford a measure of protection against abuse.
In our country, when the Supreme Court ruled against the decision to penalise an attempted suicide there were many who hailed this as being in favour of legislation to permit voluntary euthanasia. What they did not highlight was that it only struck down Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Their Lordships felt that this only piled more misery on a person already so burdened by misery that he took the extreme step of ending it all! They clearly indicated the need to bring compassion in deducing culpability. This is made clearer by the fact that they pointed out that another section of the penal code still prohibits the aiding of attempts at suicide.
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