Bioethics Discussion Blog: Ethics and Law: "Two Porcupines Making Love"

REMINDER: I AM POSTING A NEW TOPIC ABOUT ONCE A WEEK OR PERHAPS TWICE A WEEK. HOWEVER, IF YOU DON'T FIND A NEW TOPIC POSTED, THERE ARE AS OF MARCH 2013 OVER 900 TOPIC THREADS TO WHICH YOU CAN READ AND WRITE COMMENTS. I WILL BE AWARE OF EACH COMMENTARY AND MAY COME BACK WITH A REPLY.

TO FIND A TOPIC OF INTEREST TO YOU ON THIS BLOG, SIMPLY TYPE IN THE NAME OR WORDS RELATED TO THE TOPIC IN THE FIELD IN THE LEFT HAND SIDE AT TOP OF THE PAGE AND THEN CLICK ON “SEARCH BLOG”. WITH WELL OVER 900 TOPICS, MOST ABOUT GENERAL OR SPECIFIC ETHICAL ISSUES BUT NOT NECESSARILY RELATED TO ANY SPECIFIC DATE OR EVENT, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND WHAT YOU WANT. IF YOU DON’T PLEASE WRITE TO ME ON THE FEEDBACK THREAD OR BY E-MAIL DoktorMo@aol.com

IMPORTANT REQUEST TO ALL WHO COMMENT ON THIS BLOG: ALL COMMENTERS WHO WISH TO SIGN ON AS ANONYMOUS NEVERTHELESS PLEASE SIGN OFF AT THE END OF YOUR COMMENTS WITH A CONSISTENT PSEUDONYM NAME OR SOME INITIALS TO HELP MAINTAIN CONTINUITY AND NOT REQUIRE RESPONDERS TO LOOK UP THE DATE AND TIME OF THE POSTING TO DEFINE WHICH ANONYMOUS SAID WHAT. Thanks. ..Maurice

FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK! WRITE YOUR FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS BLOG, WHAT IS GOOD, POOR AND CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT TO THIS FEEDBACK THREAD

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Ethics and Law: "Two Porcupines Making Love"

Ethics and law: how are the two related. Does one come from another? Does one (for example law) always trump the other (ethics)? Well, back in 2000 Erich H. Loewy, who is a physician-ethicist wrote the following to my now inactive "Bioethics Discussion Pages". I think that in his few words, he has helped me understand that relationship between the two disciplines. What do you think? ..Maurice.




Ethics and the Law
Dr. Erich H. Loewy
Professor and Endowed Alumni Association Chair of Bioethics
Associate, Department of Philosophy
University of California, Davis


In my view (and that is my view and, therefore, may well be wrong) one of the measures of civilization in a society is to see if its laws derive from ethics or if its ethics (or at least its ethos) derive from laws. In my view, the more civilized a society the more is the former the case. Another measure is the protection of the vulnerable within such a society, something which is closely related.


The Nazi example fits -- mark you, I am not saying the holocaust, I am saying the Nazi state. The ethos shifted with the Nürnberg laws so that what was formerly simply not done became doable. The reciprocal influence of law on ethos (not the same as ethics but still the way we feel comfortable behaving) and of ethos on law is evident.


The question, of course, is "how do you translate ethics into law?". As I tell my students: like two porcupines making love: very carefully!!! To translate ethical precepts into laws must, I think, meet at least two conditions. First it should be something about which a wide consensus exists in society (murder might be an example); secondly it should be the doing of which is not only held to be ethically wrong but "threatens the king's peace" (the origin of law, really: in other words something which seriously impacts the peace of the realm).


Example: Most of us would pay lip service to the statement that it is ethically inappropriate to lie to one's spouse. But it doesn't threaten the king's peace and few of us would want it made into a criminal offense (is the death penalty too harsh??)- Murder, in that it threatens the peace of the realm because of vendettas, falls in the same categories. So, in my view, is a social structure which provides all with basic needs: here you curiously enough have something which threatens the public peace but something that there is no wide consensus about (and hence no or no adequate appropriate laws).


Obedience to law is, in my view, not absolute. When important ethical principles are jeopardized by law citizens are confronted with an ethical problem. An attempt to alter the law and, if need be, civil disobedience remains one of the corner stones of democratic process.



________________________________________

(c) 2000,Erich H. Loewy. All rights reserved. ehloewy@ucdavis.edu

2 Comments:

At Sunday, April 09, 2006 6:15:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

This is something I think I'm going to have to read ... and reread ... several times.

However, according to the understanding I have of what Dr. Loewy is saying, I agree with him.

I believe that a "wide consensus" is a very difficult thing to obtain today - for any question. That said, Dr. Loewy's last paragraph would be true in any case.

 
At Monday, April 10, 2006 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Hans G. Engel, M.D. said...

Neither law nor ethics are absolutes; both depend on judgments made by us (in laws by the majority of a population and in ethics by each of us individually). Conflicts are inevitable. What is legal in one country may be illegal in another and the ethos of one group (whether religion, coutry or other group) may counter the other.
We must learn that society needs to be a malleable and not a fixed institution.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home