Saturday, October 15, 2005

Legal Victims

It amazes me how many laws seem to be designed to hurt the victims. Let’s take a look at three examples.

Medically assisted suicide – Clearly the victim of a suicide is the person who wants to die. Most laws that specifically cover assisted suicide, though, provide punishment to those who assist, in an attempt to keep them from doing so. This takes away the last option from a terminally ill patient. A patient who has no chance for long-term survival and who is in constant pain is told that he must continue to suffer indefinitely. A person who can see his own mind slipping away day by day is told he must continue to the end, so his loved ones can experience the pain of his lack of recognition, so they can see him lose all that makes him a person. We don’t do such things to our pets – when they are beyond hope, when they can no longer live without pain, we end their lives. But we are not allowed to ask for such service for ourselves.

Prostitution – The only reasonable candidate I can find for a victim of prostitution is the prostitute herself. After all, most prostitutes give up all or most of their money to a pimp or madam. They are often the victims of violence from their customers, and cannot pursue legal remedies against them. They risk disease and unwanted pregnancy. Many of them are virtual slaves, kept in line through drug addiction, fear of deportation or abandonment in a foreign country, or simply the threat of violence, a threat that is often carried out. It seems to me, though, that all of these problems are the result of making the act illegal. If prostitution was legal, it could be licensed, inspected, controlled. The prostitute would keep the money she earned. They could receive medical care, and be legally protected from violence. There would be less financial benefit to enslaving women, so it would happen less. I don’t see prostitution becoming a respected profession anytime soon, but if it were legal, they would no longer have to be victims.

Illegal drug use – The victim here is the general public. Drug dealers have made inner-city streets into low-grade war zones. People die because they happened to be walking down the wrong street, or were standing near a window at the wrong time. People are robbed by addicts who need money to support their thousand-dollar-a-day habit – and sometimes killed by the addicted robber. As long as there is a demand for intoxicating drugs, though, there will be someone willing to supply them. Making it illegal makes it much riskier to provide that supply, but that merely causes the price to rise until someone is willing to take the risk. These days, the various criminal organizations have worked out ways to protect themselves – the only people really at risk of prosecution are the low-level distributors. Above that level, the criminals make incredible fortunes, with virtually no risk. I have heard it said, in fact, that these criminal groups provide financial support to candidates who promise to be “tough on drugs”; they keep the prices, and profits, high. If drugs become legal, then legitimate suppliers will enter the market. Production prices are comparatively low, and distribution networks are already in place – every corner drug store can be a supplier, or perhaps we could use liquor stores or tobacco shops. And the Mafia and other criminal groups instantly lose their greatest source of income, cutting back their ability to buy weapons, hire crooked lawyers, bribe police officers and judges, and even to pay their huge bands of low-level criminals. Obviously, there would be problems – but performing dangerous activities (like driving) while intoxicated is ALREADY illegal, so amending the laws to cover new intoxicants should not be difficult. Just as with alcohol, children should not be allowed to use drugs – but right now it is easier for a child to get marijuana than wine. Making marijuana legal allows us to use the same enforcement system already in place for alcohol. And so on…

There is, of course, one common thread among these laws. All of them are the result of translating religious restrictions into law. They were not enacted to protect the public from criminals; they were enacted to “protect” people from their own base urges – to protect people from themselves. As long as we keep legislating morality, we will continue to pay the price.

No comments: