A recent question posed in our local Toastmasters club was this:

“Would you break the law in order to save someone’s life?”

My initial reaction was “of course.”  It wasn’t the question given to me, but I sat there considering  it as if it had been.  The next thing that jumped into my head was the thought that the value of human life is above the law.  However, to what extent does that hold true and to what degree do people hold that as a personal moral?

Recently a man was put to death in the United States as part of a death penalty conviction for the rape and murder of a woman who was pregnant.  That man’s life was taken within the (questionably) acceptable  norms of the law.  Was that human life beneath the law any more than the woman and unborn child he murdered were above it?  Many would argue it was, many would argue it wasn’t; that’s the crux of the entire death penalty debate.

Do we then fall into the question of if it’s a life worth saving?  Ignoring the path of a Death Penalty for the moment, should we analyze a situation quickly and determine if it’s worth breaking a law to save a life or letting the person die?  Excluding the penal system and it’s death penalty for the sake of this argument, would you break the law to save a life?

Must we think about the law that might be broken?  Does it matter?  What is more important, saving a life or making sure we as an individual don’t incur the wrath of the legal system?

A man defies police orders and rushes back into a burning building trying to save the life of a son or daughter.  Did that father break any laws?  It might be argued they violated a direct police order, failed to follow police directions but was it really breaking any law?

Another man disregards a no trespassing sign to help an injured ATV rider.  Or how about this one; a man with a valid concealed carry permit, who is carrying his firearm, reacts to a school shooting next to his house, enters the school grounds and subdues the murderer long before the police can arrive.  This man will surely go to jail; he broke the law by entering a posted gun free and no shooting zone and discharged a firearm on the premises.  Did he save lives?  Did he do the right thing?  Would he go to jail?  Should he?

The reactionary who took out the murderer may have saved countless other lives, both school children and faculty.  Was his action of breaking the law justified in an attempt to save others?  Or should he have stayed in his house, cowering in his own home as he continued to hear shot, after shot, after shot, believing murder was taking place, waiting the long minutes it takes for the police to arrive.  Would that person feel pain and anguish for the rest of their lives wondering if they could have made a difference?  Wondering if their actions could have saved lives even at the risk of their own?

Yes, we value human life, but there are those who willingly put their own life on the line, in jeopardy in order to try and save the lives of others.  These are not just police officers or military members, they are fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, doctors, and even school teachers, mechanics, store workers and maybe the kid taking your order at the fast food restaurant.  But it’s a dying value.

Too many times today we hear someone was “just doing my job.”  Most times that job description doesn’t include “trying to save other lives.”  Have those people lost a sense of  humanity?  Have they lost their capacity to care enough about others that they ignore human life just to preserve their job?  Too many times we hear someone has been fired from a job because they cared enough about others and intervened in something; maybe save a life.  Too many times we hear about someone who lost their job because they defended themselves.  The message seems to be clear, your job is worth more than someone else’s life.  Have we become that desensitized to the value of human life?

A plane crashes on landing at an airport.  A few people, still alive are thrown from the plane as it wrecks.  One lies unconscious in the grass.  First responders see the body but automatically assume the person is dead.  Failing to react properly the person is eventually covered in fire extinguishing foam and run over by an emergency vehicle.  Somebody, perhaps many “somebodies,” failed to do the right thing; try to save a life.

The emergency responders initial reaction of assuming the person was dead has been built by two things. Plane crashes are typically horrific in nature, taking nearly if not all life on board the plane.  A plane crashes and the first thing most think is that all aboard are dead.  The other problem is a lack of caring.  Do we no longer drill into first responders the idea of checking -everyone- no matter what appearances might belie?  Certainly if a person’s head is missing, the presumption of death can be made rapidly.  However, if a body is laying limp with no visible signs of trauma, we owe it to that person to find out if they are, or are not alive and render appropriate aid.  And for heaven’s sake if they -are- dead try to identify and protect the body.

I feel like I grew up in a generation that valued life a lot more than I see it being valued today.  Of course, I was born about 20 years after WWII and had the Holocaust thrust upon me in 16mm films during Air Force Junior ROTC in High School.  I wouldn’t say it scared me, scarred me or otherwise encumbered my emotional state.  What it did was illustrate just how much inhumanity man can force upon other men.  I deeply felt the mission of the United States Military was to never let something like that happen again; that in the United States of America we felt honest remorse on behalf of others.  For me, those films and a belief in God probably helped shape a morality and an ethic that valued human life in contrast to what I see today as religious jihad against others.  But that’s another story.

An ethic of care is what people need today.  They must feel it in their souls.  They must value the lives of others as much as their own.  They must live the tenant of “do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”  This needs to extend to the youngest unborn child to the eldest living great-grandparent.  As much as we can, we must protect life.

  • For if we don’t protect others, why then should anyone protect us?
  • For if we don’t strive to save others, why then should anyone save us?
  • For if we don’t value the lives of others, why then should others value our life?

Would you be willing to break the law, to save a life?

And at a deeper level of philosophical ethics and morality, could you take a life in order to save yourself or others?

Asa Jay

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Copyright 2014, Asa Jay Laughton