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Law and Morality

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It is not an everyday occurrence that someone must decide the fate of another’slife. The dilemma of making a decision that someone must die in order for theothers to survive, can obviously be troubling. The process in which thetermination of one’s life may be easy to make, but to justify that decision isthe most difficult one. This paper is given a situation in which a decision oftaking one’s life is essential. The situation is that a nuclear war has occurred,which has destroyed most of the centres of civilization.

There are five peoplethat are that have escaped death by finding their way to a nuclear bunker. Thesefive people consist of a pregnant woman; an old man, who is a retired judge; twoteenagers – a fourteen-year-old boy and a sixteen-year-old girl; and a young andhealthy woman who is a doctor. They all have been there for fifteen days andthey must remain there for an additional fifteen days before they can be rescued.

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The problem is that although there are five of them in the bunker, there is onlyenough food for four people to survive for the remaining fifteen days. Rationingthe food will not be of any use, because all will die with such a plan. The onlyway for most of the survivors to live for the next fifteen days is for one todie. Somehow they have contacted an outside source to advise them on thequestions of “Who shall die?”, and “How should the decision of choosing theperson be carried out?” These are all very difficult questions to answer, butsomething must be done. It is unlikely that someone will voluntarily allowsomeone to kill them so that the others may live, that is why another form ofdecision making must be allowed. The best way to do so is probably by thatoutside aid to suggest that they try drawing lots. For example whoever pulls theshortest straw is the one who dies. With no time to procrastinate, this wouldseem the most time efficient and fairest way to choose who will die. Of course areason must be provided to the person who had drawn the shortest straw, and thatis the objective of this paper. This essay will explain how the decision will bemade that will ultimately take one of the survivor’s lives to save the remainingfour people. From that explanation of the decision made, it will attempt tojustify it. This paper proposes to explain and justify the decision by usinglegal tools such as Law and Morality, the Meta Rule, and The Doctrine ofNecessity. The advice provided on how to carry out the unfortunate death of aninnocent person may not be a “right” one, but perhaps it will be legally andmorally justified.

Law and morality play a large role here, mainly because there is a legal issueand a moral issue associated with the predicament. The reason law has a part inthe situation is that after the decision is made, it will be examined legallyand must be accountable for its consequences. Morality has its place too,because many will find it morally wrong to take one’s life despite anyjustification.

….there is some connection between law and morality, but the two areclearly not identical. First, morality is only concerned with right or wrong,with the good and evil; law is concerned with lots of things on which there isno right and wrong – procedures for land registration, incorporation and so on.

Second, morality is to some extent uncertain and a matter for each individual,law tries to be objective, written down in black and white and there for all tosee. Third, morality often leaves things vague and subject to general principle,law goes into specifics.1From that description of law and morality, it is obvious how they relateto the issue here. When the time comes for one of the five people in the bunkereventually to die, it must be legally justified. The reason for this is thatmurder is illegal, unless legally justified.2 On the other hand, reasons for thekilling must be provided to put to ease those who question the dilemma inaccordance to morality. Since law and morality are equally important and bothare evenly delicate when dealing with this issue, advising the survivors on whatto do will not be easy. Pleasing everybody is impossible, whether it is examinedfrom a legal viewpoint or a moral one. However, if the situation is analysedwith both the law and morality issues in mind, there may be a chance that manywill see some sort of vindication behind the decision to kill someone.

One example that can probably create a good foundation to better explain thecomplexity of the given situation, is that of the case of R. v. Dudley andStephens. A basic summary of the case is as follows: Thomas Dudley, EdwardStephens, another man by the name of Brooks, and Richard Parker, who was a boyin his late teens, were the crew of an English yacht. All four of them were castaway in a storm 1,600 miles away from the Cape of Good hope. This boat was notsupplied with any water or any food, except a few canned vegetables that lastedthem a duration of three days. Being lost at sea, with no food or water, theyneeded to find someway to keep themselves alive so that they could live longenough for them to be rescued. Many days went by, and within that time they hadnot eaten or drank anything. Both Dudley and Stephens suggested to Brooks thatsomeone be sacrificed to save the rest, Brooks disagreed, and they never toldthe boy of the idea. The next suggestion by Dudley and Stephens was that theyshould draw lots to see who should sacrifice their life to save the others,again Brooks refused and they did not let the boy in on the plan. Eventuallythe decision that if no vessel were to come around the next day, they shouldkill the boy. This decision, yet again, came from Dudley and Stephens. AgainBrooks disagreed and the boy was never consulted. A day passed and no vessel wasin sight. Dudley went to the boy, who was sleeping, and killed him. They fedupon the body of the boy and drank his blood for the following four days whenthey were finally rescued. After being returned to shore Dudley and Stephenswere brought to court, put on trial, and lastly sentenced to death by the court.

This decision was eventually brought down to life imprisonment, but then theyreleased Dudley and Stephens after six months.3The case of R v. Dudley andStephens is very similar to that of the one being looked at in this essay. Inboth cases, each group of people do not have enough or any food to survive longenough to be rescued, someone must die in order for the rest to survive, andboth situations have legal and moral repercussions. Both Dudley and Stephens hadunderstandable reasons to kill the young boy in order to survive, and could haveescaped being sentenced to death if they had done one thing, consulted the boy.

By not consulting the boy, an argument can be formulated to prove that theyshould have never released Dudley and Stephens from their first sentence ofdeath. The boy never consented to his life being taken away from him, but if hewere consulted and provided a reason to why he must be killed then perhapsDudley and Stephens could have avoided any type of punishment. It is probablysafe to assume that the boy would have not wanted his life to be taken away fromhim, and Brooks obviously rejected all of Dudley and Stephens’ suggestions,therefore it is apparent that some method of solving disputes was in order. Sois the case with the five people in the bunker. Although they are in a dilemmaof who and how someone should be chosen to die. Unlike Dudley and Stephens,these five people were able to reach an outside source to aid them with theirproblem. First of all, this outside source can offer them a method of solvingtheir disputes by administering the Meta Rule. The way in which the Meta Ruleoperates is as follows, “Disputes are resolved by the decision of one or morepersons, once arguments from each side of the issue have been put.”4 An outsideaid is ideal in such a predicament, because they can offer an objective reviewof the situation and listen to all the arguments made by those in the bunker;this a process that is called Audialteramparten, which in Latin means “to hearboth sides.” It is important that the decision-maker hear both sides and thatthe decision-maker also be a generalist.5 The reason for this, is that bylistening to both sides they can know all the concerns that the people in thebunker have, and by being a generalist they can be impartial to the situation,thereby making a rational and fair decision. By imposing the Meta Rule, thisoutside source can make a decision, and according to the Meta Rule, this must becarried out. Whether or not the decision is “wrong” does not matter, it isimperative and necessary that one be made to resolve the dispute of who, how,and why someone must die.

The doctrine of necessity is a very important notion to this case, because it isnecessary that someone die in order for the remaining four survive. ” Necessityknows no law,’ it is often said. In other words, you can’t be held legallyliable for an act you had to do.”6 This is what the people in the bunker mustremember, and this will legally justify the decision to kill someone. Morally,whether the decision was “right” or “wrong,” can be argued till the end of time,but there is no time to accommodate a moral debate. All that is left to do now,is to draw lots and find out who is going to have to die for the others to live.

“When the selection has been made by lots, the victim yields of course to theirfate; or if they resist, force may be employed to coerce division.”7 As harshas it may sound, if necessity has no legal standing in this situation, it shouldnot stand in any other case. In other words, necessity has been used as anargument to justify one’s actions in other cases and is accordingly justifiablein this circumstance.

Making a decision on the situation without examining it with knowledge of lawand morality, the Meta Rule, and the doctrine of necessity would make it evenmore difficult to find a rational reason why one of the five people in thebunker should die, let alone justify it. Law and morality illustrated howsensitive a situation such as this can be, and how difficult it is to make apure legal decision when morals are a large part of everyone’s lives. The MetaRule showed that even when the courts are not present to facilitate a case,there is always another method of resolving disputes legally. Finally, thedoctrine of necessity explained why some forms of action are necessary and mustbe taken and applied to a given condition. It is unfortunate that there arecases in which people, whether or not they know each other, must kill someoneelse to save their own life. It must be even more disturbing, rather thanunfortunate, for a person to sacrifice their life for the welfare of another,nevertheless it is noble. Perhaps this goes to show that when it is absolutelynecessary to kill someone in order to preserve one’s own life, murder is alwaysjustifiable.

Works Cited1 Patrick Fitzgerald and King Mc Shane. Looking at Law: Canada’s Legal System.

4th ed. (Ottawa: Tri-Graphic Printing Ltd.) 1994. Pg.3.

2 Carleton Dept. Of Law Casebook Group. Introduction to Legal Studies 2nd ed. .

(North York: Captus Press Inc.) 1995. Pg.24.

3 Carleton Dept. Of Law Casebook Group. Introduction to Legal Studies 2nd ed. .

(North York: Captus Press Inc.) 1995. Pgs.19-24.

4 Fraser, D. Fall Term Law Notes for 51.100A. (Carleton University) 1996.

5 Fraser, D. Fall Term Law Notes for 51.100A. (Carleton University) 1996.

6 Carleton Dept. Of Law Casebook Group. Introduction to Legal Studies 2nd ed. .

(North York: Captus Press Inc.) 1995. Pg.25.

7 Fraser, D. Fall Term Law Notes for 51.100A. (Carleton University) 1996.

Cite this Law and Morality

Law and Morality. (2019, Jan 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/law-and-morality/

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