“Criminalizing Failure to Rescue” — von Hirsch
In “Criminalizing Failure to Rescue”, von Hirsch explores the idea of omissions and how it reacts with criminal liability. The biggest takeaway from this reading is the semantics of the Samaritan Law and how failing to provide aid to someone in need is a legal violation. Moreover, von Hirsch explores the concept of solidarity, or people’s duty to render aid. Solidarity is separated into three types: constructuralist solidarity, communitarian solidarity, and altruism-based solidarity.
The specific type of solidarity I will be focusing on is altruism-based. This type of solidarity contends that we take “vitals” to be of objective importance, in that vital interests are the absence of pain, staying alive, etc. Using the work of Nagel to explain this view, von Hirsch crafts an argument where altruistic solidarity holds other people’s vital significance as important to you. In other words, everyone has a reason to take into consideration the vital situation of others. The example used in class was standing on a person’s toe who suffered from gout. As gout would cause a person undeniable pain, standing on their toe for no good reason would create a great deal of resentment from them. Likewise, if they were to stand on your gouty toe you would be able to have such resentment towards them. On par with this example, the wellbeing of others is considered important similar to the wellbeing of yourself.
A situation I posed in class depicts a gunman, a victim, and a person hiding in the corner. Would the person hiding be responsible for the death of the victim if they were to do nothing to stop the gunman? Similarly, would they want the victim to help them if they were the one hiding? A distinction von Hirsch makes with a situation like this is that though everyone has a reason to take into the vital situation of others, that does not mean you would be doing something wrong if you do noy support the vital situation of others. Sometimes, there are enough forces at play that outweigh the risks of offering such support for others, like a gunshot to the face.
Furthermore, if you were the cause of the need for aid then you would, in fact, have a duty to provide that aid to the person. So, if you were the one who shot a person in the leg and then needed to call an ambulance, or gave a person peanut butter and then needed to administer an Epi-pen. However, in a case where you are an ambulance driver on a call, you have a responsibility to go directly to the incident in order to help. Not stopping the ambulance values the importance of the person’s vitals highly. You would not stop at a McDonald’s two miles away from the incident because you happened to get hungry when a person needed your assistance with a gunshot wound. In this case, the ambulance driver failed to take the gunshot victim’s vital interest seriously. Valuing the wellbeing of others is incredibly important with the altruism-based idea of solidarity.
An example that came to mind is one of an intoxicated college student. Say you happen across a student passed out drunk on the front lawn of a house. Do you walk away from them or call an ambulance? The student may just need to sleep it off and will wake up perfectly intact the next morning, or they could die of alcohol poisoning during the night. I would say that if you value that person’s best interests, then you need to check to make sure that they are alright instead of minding your own business. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? The person won’t gain anything from helping, but the one passed out on the lawn would die if not given medical attention. Caring about the wellbeing of others, even if you do not get anything in return, is the basis of an altruistic form of solidarity, and arguably the most difficult. It is easy to care about what happens to yourself, your friends, or your neighbors; but caring about the wellbeing of a perfect stranger is a special type of kindness and responsibility.