Category Archives: Law, Ethics, and Public Policy

Duty to Rescue

Research proposal posted by Valentina Reyes.

Tort law carries the “no duty to rescue” principle, which establishes an individual’s freedom to choose whether to intervene in situations of peril while imposing no sanction on those who choose not to act. “While there is properly in law a duty not to harm, there is not . . . a negative duty not to allow harm to happen” (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes). So long as there is no fiduciary relationship – which is defined as a relationship of trust or legal obligation of a person to another – between the two parties, an individual is not obliged to intervene, even if refraining from doing so may lead to the impending death of the other. This principle was established with the idea that people should not be held responsible for the demise of others unless they were directly involved with the causation of the incidents that led to the other’s peril, or had some established duty of care to the other, and to protect one’s freedom of choice.

In some instances, some courts may find that if a person began to rescue another and then ceased, the rescuer may be found liable if the reasonable person would have continued to rescue the victim. Under the umbrella of negligence, this is called “undertaking to act.” However, some states provide immunity from liability under specific statutes typically referred to as “Good Samaritan laws.” These statutes are put in place to protect those who, in good faith, decide to help in an emergency situation from being sued in civil court for any damage which may result from their act or omission to act. Depending on the situation, courts may wish to protect a rescuer or deem them responsible for negligent acts if the additional damage caused to the plaintiff resulted from an unreasonable act by the rescuer.

While the “no duty to rescue” principle was put in place to protect people’s liberty to choose, it also gives people power to allow others to perish. On the one hand, people are free to choose whether to get involved, but if they choose not to help when they are capable of helping and when the help may save a life, then they have the indirect power over another’s life. The principle also reinforces individualistic behavior that is already very much present in American society and culture which is often noted as being extremely averse to collectivism. Further, if a person intends another to perish by doing nothing, they may be able to get away with being the indirect cause of the other’s demise by choosing to do nothing out of a desire to cause the other harm. In this case, we have the element of mens rea without actus reus (so long as the bystander was not involved in the proximate cause of the victim’s accident or ailment), and the person intending to do harm by doing nothing could be protected under the law. In the case that the defendant was involved in the proximate cause of the victim’s accident, as was the case in Podias v. Mairs, the defendant could be found guilty for doing nothing because at that point, a fiduciary relationship is formed because but for the defendant’s actions, the victim would not have been put in danger.

Catholic social teaching teaches us that we should love everyone and show a sense of community towards our neighbors. We should treat everyone how we would like to be treated and respect and protect all forms of life. Whether we are free to choose, we should do the correct thing and provide help when we can for those who need it because if we are the difference between life and death for another, it does not take much away from us to give another what they can never get back. Gaudium et Spes states “[…] the duty which is imposed upon us, that we build a better world based upon truth and justice. Thus, we are witnesses of the birth of a new humanism, one in which man is defined first of all by this responsibility to his brothers and to    history.”

 

Works Cited

http://www.siue.edu/~evailat/i-mill.html

http://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/specific-legal-duties.html

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nj-superior-court-appellate-division/1187493.html

https://www.stthomas.edu/media/catholicstudies/center/ryan/conferences/2005-vatican/Uelmen.pdf

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html

http://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/specific-legal-duties.html

http://negligence.uslegal.com/specific-duties/duty-to-rescue/

https://www.shrm.org/legalissues/stateandlocalresources/stateandlocalstatutesandregulations/documents/goodsamaritanlaws.pdf

 

The Principle of Double Effect

Research proposal posted by Jessica Page.

Topic

The principle of double effect creates a set of guidelines to “determine when it is ethically permissible for a human being to engage in conduct in pursuit of a good end with full knowledge that the conduct will also bring about bad results” (The Principle of Double Effect). Generally, the principle states that when someone is deciding a certain conduct that has both good and bad effects, the course of conduct they choose is “ethically permissible only if it is not wrong in itself and if it does not require that one directly intend the bad result” (The Principle of Double Effect). The moral criteria for the principle of double effect generally states the action in itself must be good or indifferent, the good effect cannot be obtained through the bad effect, there must be a proportion between the good and bad effects brought about, the intention of the subject must be directed towards the good effect and merely tolerate the bad effect and there does not exist another possibility or avenue (What is the Principle of Double Effect?).

Pros and Cons

The issue with the principle of double effect is that each situation where the principle applies is different. If an act is bad, it cannot become good or indifferent by a good motive or good circumstances. If it is evil in nature, this will not change. That being said, the principle “the end justifies the means” must always be rejected. The idea that needs to be applied to each issue is the fact that a human must never do evil, but they are not bound to prevent the existence of evil. One example we can apply this to is the BP oil spill that was discussed in class. By not mandating a cut-off switch because of how expensive it was, even though the safety benefits were astronomical, when an explosion happened on one of the rigs, eleven workers were killed and seventeen were injured. Not to mention the five million barrels of oil that gushed into the ocean. Had the US mandated these switches like they wanted, even though BP lobbied against them, it could have avoided the deaths, injuries and pollution caused by the exploding rig. In this case, the deaths and havoc caused by the explosion did not justify the fact that BP was trying to save money for their own personal benefit. Another example where the principle of double effect is relevant today is the controversy of euthanasia. It is used to justify the case “where a doctor gives drugs to a patient to relieve distressing symptoms even though he knows doing this may shorten the patient’s life” (BBC). The doctor’s intention is not to kill the patient, but the result of death is a side-effect of reducing patient’s pain. One problem that people argue against this doctrine is the fact that they believe we are responsible for all anticipated consequences of our actions. Another is the fact that intention is irrelevant. A third issue, specifically in the euthanasia issue, is the fact that death is not always seen as a bad thing making the double effect irrelevant. Lastly, the double effect can produce an unexpected moral result.

Ethics and Principles

When looking at the incorporation of Catholic, one of the main issues that concerns this principle and the Catholic religion is that case where a pregnancy may need to end in order to preserve the life of the mother. The example most often given is a woman with uterine cancer. By removing the uterus, it will bring death to the fetus but the death is not “directly” intended and in turn, the mother will live. It is an issue that still is debated today (Soloman). Another similar case having to do closely with Catholic ideals is when a woman has an ectopic pregnancy and must receive surgery to remove the embryo. At a Catholic hospital, it can be questioned whether that specific procedure is considered a direct abortion, going against the Catholic ideals and morals, no matter what the means of the surgery are. “The principle of double effect enables bioethicists and Catholic moralists to navigate various actions that may or may not be morally justifiable in some circumstances” (Kockler). The idea of proportionate reasoning has also been condemned by Pope John Paul II. He categorized proportionalism as a species of consequentialism. This is condemned by the Church because no Catholic moralist would agree that a desirable end justifies any means (Kockler). These are serious issues, especially when considering the principle of double effect from a Catholic standpoint.

Works Cited:

Kockler, Nicolas. The Principle of Double Effect and Proportionate Reason. http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2007/05/pfor2-0705.html

“The Doctrine of Double Effect”. BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/euthanasia/overview/doubleeffect.shtml

“The Principle of Double Effect”. http://sites.saintmarys.edu/~incandel/doubleeffect.html

“The Principle of Double Effect”. http://www83.homepage.villanova.edu/richard.jacobs/MPA%208300/theories/double%20effect.html

“What is the Principle of Double Effect?” http://ncbcenter.org/document.doc?id=132

 

 

Liberty of Contract: Removal from the “Anticanon”

Research proposal posted by Elizabeth Donald.

Part One: Topic Explanation

Liberty of contract was originally introduced into U.S. constitutional jurisprudence through the case of Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905). In this case, Joseph F. Lochner challenged a provision of the New York Bakeshop Act of 1895 that prohibited bakers from working more than ten hours per day and 60 hours per week. The Supreme Court held that this regulation failed to pass constitutional muster in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In doing so, the Court found “liberty of contract,” that is, the freedom of individuals and groups to enter into contracts, to be a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment.  Other Supreme Court decisions continued to build on this idea during what is now referred to as “The Lochner Era” of cases. This includes Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923), invalidating a minimum wage law and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 286 U.S. 510 (1925), deeming unconstitutional a regulation that led to the closing of many private Catholic schools.

Part Two: Pros and Cons

The Lochner decision was considered one of the most controversial cases of its time after being handed down in 1905. Progressive jurists, politicians, and scholars alike denounced Lochner, whether for attempting to constitutionalize laissez-faire economics or for exceeding judicial authority.[1] They believed that the conservative-leaning Lochner majority reached far beyond the scope of its powers. This is because although the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly list “liberty of contract” as a fundamental right, the court still found it to be so under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause which states, “[N]or shall any person … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. XVI, § 1. In finding a liberty of contract within the Constitution, Progressives saw the majority as an advocate of big business that attempted to adopt policy by means of judicial decision. These Progressive jurists instead encouraged a deference to the legislature on all matters, economic and personal. Since the early 20th century, Progressive ideology has shifted, but still views liberty of contract in a negative light.

Flashing forward to today, jurists across the political spectrum remain highly critical of Lochner. Constitutional theorist Bruce Ackerman places Lochner in his “anticanon” of cases. Unlike early 20th century Progressives, today’s Progressive jurists typically believe in using strict scrutiny to analyze laws regarding personal rights. Yet, they now isolate personal liberties from economic liberties, which are still considered unwarranting of constitutional protection.[2] Twenty-first century conservatives, likewise, do not tend to favor liberty of contract. Conservative jurists today often advocate for a deference to the legislature on both personal and economic issues. Thus, the conservative viewpoint has also significantly shifted from the Lochner Era right-wing belief that natural rights precede positive law and that liberty of contract is one of those inherent natural rights. This leaves little room for hope for the few present-day proponents of liberty of contract. However, the idea of contractual freedom as a fundamental right might not be as bad as many make it seem. In fact, liberty of contract is really a derivative of the natural law.

The natural law, according to St. Pope John Paul II, is a law that resides within the “depths of the conscience.” It is written on the hearts of all men, according to which God will be the judge. Legal theorists have found certain rights to be inherent within this natural law. The Constitution itself was founded on the idea of natural rights. James Madison, a drafter of the Constitution, believed that man “embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage…”[3] This idea was the bedrock of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which was eventually applied to the states through the Fourteenth. Therefore, the Court majority in Lochner simply viewed liberty of contract as one of these natural rights under due process. This reading of the Due Process Clause achieves much greater validation than suggested by Lochner’s opponents. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27-30, which gave way to the Fourteenth Amendment, listed liberty of contract first in the rights accorded to man. In this act, the 39th Congress wrote that, “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties …” This act served the purpose of enforcing the natural rights of man. Therefore, the Lochner majority’s belief in liberty of contract as a fundamental right was not unwarranted.

Part Three: Questions of Ethics

Liberty of contract is intertwined with ethics because the very idea of ethics rests on the natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the natural law “constitutes the principles of practical rationality,” which are the rules by which human action is to be judged as reasonable or unreasonable.[4] It is from this ethical theory that fundamental rights were developed. Not only that, but contractual freedom is essential to business ethics as well. The significance of liberty of contract comes through in the employment-at-will rule which gives employers unfettered power to “dismiss their employees at will for good cause, for no cause, or even for cause morally wrong, without being thereby guilty of a legal wrong.” However, because the employment-at-will theory is supported by laissez-faire economics, it too is often criticized by Progressive jurists who oppose free markets. Yet, even though early 20th century Progressive jurists denounced the Lochner decision for its association with laissez-faire ideals, this does not invalidate the fact that liberty of contract can be viewed as a fundamental right within the natural law. Further, just because liberty of contract is an economic liberty does not mean it cannot be a fundamental liberty. Since provisions of the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 demonstrate that both the Founding Fathers and the 39th Congress understood liberty of contract as deriving from the natural law, it is valid to not only consider this liberty as fundamental, but also ethical.

Works cited:

[1] David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner (2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Colleen Sheehan, James Madison and Our First Duty, THE CENTER FOR VISION AND VALUES (Sep. 23, 2014), http://www.visionandvalues.org/2014/09/james-madison-and-our-first-duty-by-dr-colleen-sheehan/.

[4] Aquinas, ST I-II. Q94.

Privacy and Surveillance Laws

Research proposal posted by Brian Kane.

In the digital age, the rights and laws regarding privacy are being contested now more than ever. Today personal privacy, both digital and physical, is being discussed. One of the earliest examples of privacy laws in the United States is the 4th amendment. Under this amendment gives “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” (Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution). This and other laws, including the Federal Wiretap Law of 1968, are designed to protect the individual against unlawful searches of personal property by an unfair government. The individual right to privacy is held sacred in this country.

However, the laws of privacy protection are not absolute. Communications and interactions in general areas, such as online chatrooms, and digital communication used for work. Surveillance monitoring by employers has been contested by employees in courts in multiple cases. In City of Ontario, California v. Quon, for example, a search was justified because there were “reasonable grounds” and done “for a non-investigatory work-related purpose” (Ontario v. Quon).

Some argue that the privacy laws are for the best interests of individuals. Individuals and consumers are protected when the monitoring parties have clearly defined limits and barriers. When the government requires search warrants and the corporations are required to obtain consent, the best interests of those being monitored are kept in mind. The constant surveillance by powerful entities removes the right for individuals to act freely and live their own lifestyle. Gratuitous monitoring dehumanizes the employee and implies guilt without any evidence.

Privacy law is not completely virtuous, however. Like all laws, some may seek to exploit privacy law and use it to shield unproductive, immoral, and unethical behavior. When employees use corporate email accounts for personal business, they often claim a right to privacy when investigation begins. Many act recklessly online in this digital age, assuming that the right to privacy is absolute and unbreakable. There are instances where there is legitimate reasons to investigate an individual. When there is probable cause, public good supersedes individual privacy.

The issue of privacy and surveillance laws raises many ethical questions. The rights of individuals and the definition of individualism is put into question when anyone is monitored by a third party. There is concern for the maintenance of human dignity, as some see these searches dehumanizing and distressing on private lives. Pope Leo XIII spoke out against increased surveillance, saying that it intruded and lead to control over individuals. In Catholicism, the holy sacrament of confession revolves around the private recounting of sins and transgressions. When discussing privacy, the matter common good is raised. Aquinas believes that law is created for the common good, “made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated” (2 Bix).

Privacy and Surveillance Law is a widely contested issue in the catholic faith and general ethics. It has its advantages and disadvantages, as any other issue in law, but it will continue to be contested as new innovations shape the information age.

Works Cited

Bix, Brian H. “Secrecy and the Nature of Law.” October 2013. University of Pennsylvania School, Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law. Web. 3/3/2016. Avaliable: https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/2418-bixsecrecy-and-the-nature-of-law-full

City of Ontario v. Quon. 560 U.S. 746. Accessed 3/3/2016.

Eminent Domain

Research project posted by Rafael Gabrieli.

Eminent Domain

Part I:

Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use by a state or national government. There would be just compensation for the private property seized, however, many problems arise from this act. The way that eminent domain works is that it is backed by the Fifth Amendment to the US.  Constitution, which is that your state government has power over all property in the State, even private land. The land can be taken without the consent of the owner, as long as he or she is justly compensated. The purposes for which eminent domain vary, however, it has to be used for a public good somehow. This means that roads, courthouses, schools, or any other infrastructure that can benefit the public will come into place of the land that the government took using eminent domain. The state government or national government is able to use eminent domain for large-scale public works operations or even growing freeway systems.

Part II:

Pros:

In Houston, Texas, land was obtained by the use of eminent domain in order to create the Minute Maid Park baseball stadium, which has benefitted the surrounding community immensely. The baseball stadium brings millions of people each year to downtown Houston. What is amazing to see is to compare it with the Houston community before the stadium was built, which was very barren and unsocial.

The I-85 widening project in Concord, North Carolina will reshape the way inhabitants travel around Concord. The inhabitants are being justly compensated, and some are even getting 5%-10% more than the initial appraisal value. This new freeway widening will allow traffic to be lessened during rush hours, which posed a big problem for the city during the past couple of years. It is a necessary and responsible use of eminent domain.

Cons:

Private property could have sentimental value, like a house that has been in the family for generations. This is the case with the Keeler family from Claverack, New York, who lived in their house for four generations and were being forced out due to the state’s plan to expand power lines. Another problem with eminent domain is that the price that the owner feels he deserves is more than what is being offered to him. This happened to Rich Quam, owner of a house in Fargo, North Dakota since 1997. The town stated that his backyard could become structurally unstable, so the city offered him an amount to buy the property from him. Rich Quam declared it an insult however, because the amount did not reflect the years of hard work he put into renovating the house, adding a second level and a garage. A third problem is the simple desire to not want to abandon a profitable business, which almost occurred a couple years back to Perry Beaton, property co-owner of a Burger King that the city of North Kansas City was attempting to seize from him.

Part III:

In Economic Justice for All, it is stated that the common good may sometimes demand that the right to own be limited by public involvement in the planning or ownership of certain sectors of the economy, which is essentially the basis for eminent domain. Catholic support of private ownership does not mean that anyone has the right to unlimited accumulation of wealth, rather, it states that “no one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities.” Thus being the Catholic Social Teaching stance on Eminent Domain: if it is for the public good, an individual should be more than willing to give up his property that is not essential to his well-being in order to further the development of society and his surroundings.

Works Cited

Clayton, Adam. “Family Rallies to save Farmland from Eminent Domain.” Columbia-Greene Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

“Economic Justice for All.” Wall Common Good Selected Texts. N.p., n.d. Book. 10 Mar. 2016.

Lewis, David. “Eminent Domain: Still A Useful Tool Despite Its Recent Thrashing.” Planetizen. Planetizen, 5 Sept. 2006. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Messina, Ignazio. “City Threatens Eminent Domain.” Toledo Blade. N.p., 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Reaves, Tim. “Making Way for the Freeway: Eminent Domain Claims Homes.” Independent Tribune. Independent Tribune, 7 June 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.

Ross, John. “Hands Off! North Kansas City Loses Eminent Domain Case « Watchdog.org.” Watchdogorg RSS. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2014.