Adults do not obey

The best comment I’ve read on the topic of Savita Halappanavar’s death comes from Emer O’Toole, in the Guardian:

I am no longer a Catholic, so I need to look for earthly explanations as to what happened to Halappanavar. The medical technology to prevent this painful, senseless death was at hand. Yet doctors did not use it. Why? One could argue that they had to obey Irish law. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, speaking of defences mounted by the perpetrators of atrocities during the Holocaust, Hannah Arendt says that adult citizens cannot obey. Children and animals can obey, but adults have the capacity to morally assess the actions that their sociopolitical systems demand of them.

Adults do not obey, they consent.

Godwin’s Law aside, the message here is clear. Regardless of what Irish law may be (and of what it may become) with respect to abortion, any doctor who has stood by and allowed a woman to die, rather than even attempt provide the medical care she needed, bears moral responsibility for her death.

3 Replies to “Adults do not obey”

  1. I’m torn. I know what you’re saying, but…

    On many occasions, Irish doctors have intervened in cases on the grounds of moral imperative, even if their actions have been technically illegal. The vast, vast majority of illegal medical interventions have been enormously harmful, particularly to women.

    I therefore hesitate to endorse a position that encourages Doctors to use their discretion, because I don’t trust them.

    It’s the legislators that have primarily failed – the rights in those situations must be transferred to the only person entitled to make decisions – the pregnant woman.

    Definitely, adults have a capacity to exercise their judgement when the law is an ass, but the only acceptable solution in the long term is to constitute laws that don’t require that of people whose moral judgement is sometimes highly suspect.

  2. I’m not arguing that legislators aren’t similarly or more at fault.

    But this was the only coverage I saw that acknowledged that the law doesn’t actually physically prevent people from doing the right thing. If you fail to act because the law tells you to, you’ve still failed to act.

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