Good Samaritan Laws

Amitai Etzioni suggests over on TPM Cafe that the US should enact “duty to assist” or “Good Samaritan” laws that legally obligate individuals to assist others in distress. He argues that such laws would provide our society with moral grounding in uncertain times. He points to other states, including Israel, Japan, and several in Western Europe that have similar laws.

I am not persuaded.  First, Etzioni relies far too heavily on anecdote and emotional appeal. He opens with a shocking story of an innocent woman stabbed in a convenience store who died of her injuries while others ignored her with callous indifference. (I suppose we are to infer she might not have died if she had received care, although Etzioni conspicuously fails to state it). He later suggests that those who don’t support such laws would reconsider if their child died as a result of similar indifference. This is simply bad form, particularly the “think of the children” argument. It is intellectually lazy and does not contribute anything substantive to the debate.

Second, I am with the libertarians on this one. I am fairly certain a number Constitutional arguments could be made against such a law. Even if they couldn’t, such a law would by necessity be incredibly vague and subject to a huge range of interpretations, some of which I find unappealing. Etzioni is not persuaded, because we have a number of other vague laws on the books, but I don’t buy that argument either. Simply put, I believe a sense of civic duty can and should be instilled by educators and family, and not the government.

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