Protect the Good Samaritan, or Punish the Bad?

As China questions the moral compass of its masses in the aftermath of the horrific hit-and-run death of 2-year old Yue Yue in Foshan, and social and official media discuss the need to create laws to prevent similar negligence in the future, a Global Times Op-Ed questions what form such laws should take:

Now the debate about a law to protect prospective Samaritans has been revived. When seeking for a legal precedent, the systems in two countries, the US and France, come to mind. In the US, the Good Samaritan law varies widely from state to state. However, its general basis is that anybody aiding a person in danger, without having caused the danger, is thereby immune to any prosecution arising from that rescue.

France takes a markedly different approach. The French law rests on the concept of punishing someone who does not come to the aid of a person in danger, in essence a Bad Samaritan law. It’s a rare case where the law recognizes an obligation to assist, forcing anyone in the position to save someone without putting themselves in peril to do so. Anyone found to be in breach in this law is liable to criminal prosecution and faces five years in jail as well as a fine of 75,000 euros (660,000 yuan).

On paper, the French law sounds much harsher and would doubtlessly be rejected in the fiercely individualistic US. However, where the US Good Samaritan law has caused much debate and is outright rejected in many jurisdictions, the French version has become a popular and key part of the country’s legal code. When it was first drafted, there were public concerns, but over the years, the obligation to help has become second nature to the French public.

Now, which of these would be most applicable to China? Views on Weibo seem divided, with many favoring legal protection for people like Peng Yu while others clamor for punishment to be meted out to the drivers that killed Yueyue and the passers-by who left her for dead. It seems that a mixture of the two would be best. Crucially, there is little point in passing an either kind of law if the government cannot enforce it.

While outside observers have sought to explain Yue Yue’s death through an critique of capitalist and communist ideologies in China, international charity lawyer Blake Bromley cites the biblical story of the Good Samaritan to shed light on the tragedy’s true lesson. From Huffington Post:

It was not because she was poor that the rubbish collector, Chen Xianmei picked up Yueyue and carried her off the road. Similarly, the compassion demonstrated by the Good Samaritan had little to do with his class or economic status. It is not because he belonged to a class reviled by the majority of people that the Samaritan stopped to help. He helped because he saw the injured man as his neighbor. China does not need an ideological debate that focuses on issues of “class” and “capitalism.” China has already fought a revolution on those divisive issues. China needs a debate that can unite and uplift its society. Properly understood, “Who is my neighbor?” is a moral and ethical question as relevant to the inhabitants of Zhongnanhai as it is to the shoppers who passed Yueyue in the market street. It is an inquiry that transcends social standing, economic class and party affiliation. Jesus dealt with the question in relationship to the love of God. Can China explore this question in a non-religious context that reflects the reality of contemporary China? If it can, the death of Yueyue might have a profoundly beneficial influence on the whole country and help China come to an understanding of charity that is simultaneously global and Chinese.

See also an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald last weekend in light of the Yue Yue story, in which Dick Gross examines an event in the United States 30 years ago that prompted similar national introspection and studies that have emerged since about our inclinations toward altruism.

October 31, 2011 11:48 PM
Posted By: