In the large majority of cases, the law reflects moral values – its common sense. It’s morally wrong to murder, there’s a law to state what happens to murderers. Same for robbery. Same for whacking up somebody because you felt like it.
But there are some instances, where the law cannot, must not, reflect morality. These are quite a small minority, but a very important minority. What are they? I’ll cover some of these cases here, but these are not exhaustive. They fall mainly into the domain of health. I’m not too sure why; is it because this is the area of my specialty (I’m doing my PhD studying unborn babies….) or because it’s the nature of how our health and psychology works that makes it that way.
Anyway, the areas I’ll be talking about to illustrate my point : 1. Drug use / prostitution 2. Sex with minors (below 16s)/Abortion 3. Euthanasia
- Drug use / prostitution.
During the recent AIDS conference, a HIV prevention activist from Sydney, Australia gave a keynote lecture, describing some of the more successful strategies. Two of them were providing drug addicts with free clean injection needles and de-criminalizing prostitution.
How does that work? Drug addicts who inject drugs usually share needles – they spend all their money on drugs, no money to buy clean needles. Drug addicts also tend to engage in prostitution to support their habit. So the percentage of HIV cases amongst drug addicts is very high because they are constantly engaging in 2 sorts high-risk behavior.
But the percentage of drug addicts amongst the total number of HIV cases is actually very low – because most people in Sydney are not injecting drug abusers!!! However, because enough “normal” men visit prostitutes/ drug users, the prostitutes/drug users become the “seed” through which HIV is spread to the larger community. The “normal” men then take the HIV back to their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, casual sex partners etc. Therefore, cutting off the infection at the “seed” will reduce spread into the mainstream.
To do that, the Australians set up places where drug users can get FREE CLEAN needles, without getting arrested for drug use. At the same time, the Australians still maintain their opposition to drug abuse.
In the same way, they also set up education programmes to educate and empower prostitutes to practice safe sex , to use condoms, without arresting them for prostitution. At the same time, the Australians still do not view prostitution as a morally acceptable behavior.
Because the drug users/ prostitutes can adopt healthier practices without the fear of being arrested, they of course do! And in doing so, they prevent the rise of HIV infections. If they will be arrested, or if the authorities refuse to help them at all and still criminalize them on moral grounds, then it will drive them underground, where the HIV will go up and go into mainstream society. Not that Australia condones drug use or prostitution – they don’t.
This is a classic example of how, on one hand, everyone holds to the same moral value – NO to drug abuse and prostitution – but policy, (even if the law must be there still) has to be different from the moral values, and TOLERATE it, because the cost of policy adopting a moral high ground would be a much larger cost to the health of a greater number of people.
- Sex with minors (under 16)/Abortion
In Singapore, having sex with a girl under 14 is considered Statutory Rape , with 20 yrs jail, 12 strokes. Having sex with a girl or boy under 16 carries 10 yrs jail. That law upholds the moral value that adults should not take advantage of the ignorance and emotional immaturity of the child. Great moral value there, and certainly a very useful law to bring these child exploiters to justice.
What’s the backlash?
In the course of my work with the teen girls, I’ve met girls who really loved their boyfriends( could be teens like them, even more immature, could be adults), so much so that when they get pregnant, or get an STI, they never go to the doctor, never tell a single soul. Because they are so afraid their boyfriends would have to go to jail for 10 or 20 years, when the doctor finds out.
What do they do?
I tell them, your life and health is the MOST important. No matter what, go to the doctor, ASAP! And no doctor can make you reveal who your boyfriend is. No doctor will imprison you in his clinic for days and days until you confess. If you never reveal, no one can arrest your boyfriend.
There was a recent case, where people were very appalled because a 12 year old girl went to the abortion clinic and she didn’t dare to disclose or report the rapist. The parents didn’t know and so could not help her. The public felt that parents should be made to know, to help her. I fully agree with their thoughts, but I will never want to see parental consent made compulsory by law, because the consequences will mean the deaths of even more young girls. I would rather pay the price of having disobedient or even bullied teenagers. Bad as that may be, death is worse.
Firstly, bear in mind that medical care, even the most basic, HAVE to be State subsidized, or else it will be beyond the reach of the majority. Even your polyclinic is VERY VERY subsidized. But countries usually subsidise only a specific list of STANDARD medicines. The newer, more expensive, better medicines are not on the STANDARD list and not subsidized. The number and cost of medicines on the STANDARD list will depend on how much subsidies the State wants to provide. Drug companies tend not to sell lousy medicines when good ones are already available, or they will not make lousy medicines more expensive than good ones – that’s common business sense. Furthermore, if the expensive ones are not better than the cheap ones, your doctor won’t even prescribe to you!! So what’s this argument about expensive not being better?
So, if State subsidies are low, people tend to not get the best treatments, and of course they will suffer! Or they will say, don’t waste more money on medicines. And so they will wish for death. And they will be happy that euthanasia is legal. And since they are allowed to die and solve the problem, why should the State increase medical subsidies or palliative healthcare? Why should I care for you when you can just go and die?
We MUST NEVER support LEGALISED euthanasia, because it is iimportant that you have enough medical subsidies from the government and not have them tell you, sorry too expensive, but we allow you to go and die.
You think such people like the daughter-in-law don’t exist? Then why is there so many old-folks homes? Siblings fighting over who should look after parents? The Parents Act where kids must be forced by law to care for parents?
So yeah, I agree with many people that we have the MORAL right to choose our own death, and I might even do so myself. But I will never agree to LEGALISED (read: State ENDORSED) euthanasia.
Religion and policy were separated a long time ago – and we need to keep that separate.
The above post is 3rd in a series of posts reviewing info brought up during the 6th Singapore AIDS conference. The first described the conference. The second described the life of someone with HIV in Singapore, and hopefully makes you want to do something about the situation. This third post hopefully establishes the principles on which I evaluate and recommend policies with regards to HIV.