Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ACS v. FedSoc: Good Samaritan Laws

This post is the next installment in part of an ongoing exchange between Fed Soc and ACS. This installment focuses on Good Samaritan Laws and their potential effects on American culture and the American legal system. To see the FedSoc post, click here.

In response to last Thursday's post on the FedSoc blog, I, too, am going to concentrate on the second type of Good Samaritan laws, which require people by law to assist others if they can do so without risking harm to themselves. So, to take the FedSoc examples, these laws would apply to the neighbors who didn't call the police when the New York woman was being stabbed, but not to the man who jumped down onto the subway tracks to save the teenager having the epileptic fit.
For the most part, I agree with the FedSoc blogger's position. I agree that individual rights are paramount in the American system; I think that having Good Samartian laws would encroach on those rights, as well as present serious administrability issues. But it is important to note that in most places, the sanctions for Good Samaritan law violations are fines, not imprisonment. So the burden to the individual is not quite as alarming as it first appears.
I also disagree with the idea that Good Samaritan laws would have a harmful effect on people's willingness to save others out of goodwill. I don't think the value of saving someone else would be lessened simply because the law required it. We still think policemen are heroic, and they're paid to come to the assistance of others. And in most of the heroic examples listed in the FedSoc post, Good Samaritan laws would not apply, because what made those acts heroic was the degree to which the heroes risked danger to themselves. The value of those acts will not change.
Good Samaritan laws are meant to encourage a lower level of heroism, the kind that might be overridden by an unwillingness to get involved. One of the justifications for codifying criminal laws is to express the mores and values of a society; Good Samaritan laws express a value of action over apathy when someone else is in danger and you can help them without risking yourself. But ultimately, I must agree that in this particular balancing of social welfare and personal autonomy, personal autonomy is a little heavier.

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