Punishing criminals in such way can “control their actions because punishment causes pain and” it is but natural for an individual “to try to the best of his or her ability to avoid pain” (Jackson). In relation, it is contended that a unilateral act of rescuing an individual in danger can create the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. In such case, to be in accord with Benthams theory, it should be made a legal duty—making one criminally liable for failure to rescue. This can effectively deter the “disregarding” tendency of some individuals and promote greater awareness to the members of the society.
Kantian Ethics On the other side, to bolster the need of making the failure to rescue a crime, it is best to examine the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and his followers. Kant actually criticized the utilitarian principle saying that for people to act morally, they should act from duty and not based on happiness (Kant, qtd. in Abbott 14). Using happiness for him as a measure to determine whether an act is moral or not can be subjective.
He argues that it is the motive of the person which makes an act right or wrong (Kant, qtd. in Abbott 2). For instance, the act of rescuing a distressed individual in line with Kantian principle can be morally right if the overseer helps the person knowingly and willfully. This means that the individual’s act is purely based on reason. It is his or her initiative or will that pushed him or her to be in aid of the person and not based on society’s expectation. Nonetheless, it is a basic principle that no person shall be punished basing on his or her will alone since ones intellect is not capable of exact determination.
An overt act is needed to determine if the person in fact violated a law which warrants punishment. In connection, one could not be punished for a failure to rescue if it will be solely evaluated on the overseer’s will. Thus, for it to be a crime, the over act which is separate from the will of the individual should be properly considered.
Relevant Cases There are actually three cases relevant to the adoption of a statute which would impose criminal liability on the failure to rescue. The first case is People vs. Beardsley, 150 Mich. 206, 113 N. W. 1128, decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan in 1907. Beardsley in this case was absolved from the crime of manslaughter (Secret Helper). The court ruled that in the absence of a legal obligation to rescue, it is the moral duty of anyone to assist others when in danger.
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