Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Legalise lawbreaking?

Published:Friday | October 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Listen to this argument: People are breaking the law. Because an activity is illegal, people hide and do it, and may hurt themselves in the process; therefore, since they are going to do it anyway, we should make the activity legal. Does that sound like common sense? Or a cop-out - taking the easy way out?

Who is putting forward this nonsense argument? Is this the logic of the ganja lobby: that people are going to smoke ganja anyway, so we might as well make it legal?

Is it being argued that since children under the legal age of consent, 16, are having sex, and whatever you do they are going to have sex anyway, so we should abolish the age of consent entirely, and make sex with minors and between minors legal?

Children are going to hide and have sex, and some will hurt themselves by contracting sexually transmitted infections, and girls are getting pregnant and having children; so the best thing to do is abolish the age of consent, and have no restrictions in sexual matters, because they are going to do it anyway. Is anyone taking this position?

In yesterday's Gleaner, Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison put forward the exact opposite argument. Young children may be physically and hormonally mature, but they are not psychologically, socially or emotionally mature. Therefore, the age of consent should be raised to 18. Diahann Gordon Harrison cannot be accused of arguing that, since they are wantonly breaking the law, let's make it legal.

What about Dr Sandra Knight, chair of the National Family Planning Board? She argues that since having or facilitating an abortion is illegal, thus is sending people underground to have illegal abortions. The fact that abortions are illegal, she argues, is almost forcing young girls to procure unsafe abortions. Therefore, Dr Knight argues, it is time that the law be changed.

Allow piracy, theft too?

Does she also argue that since so many people illegally download music and movies from the Internet in breach of copyright laws and intellectual property rights, it is time that the law be changed? Does she further argue that since so many thousands of Jamaicans illegally abstract water and access electricity, it is time that the law be changed to make it legal?

The reporter interviewing Dr Knight quite responsibly asked her to comment about when a foetus becomes a human being, and about abortion being akin to murder. Dr Knight replied that religion and politics cannot be taken into account when making public health decisions. "We have to think of what's best for the population and in terms of the public health. So, as much as I'm a parson pickney, I can't bring my parson pickney (mentality) into the job that I have to do," she said.

Science says that when haploid (23 chromosomes) gametes - sperm and egg - fuse, the result is a diploid (46 chromosomes) human being. Human beings have human rights, the first and most important of which is the right to life. Even in the womb, a foetus - a different and separate human being from the mother - has rights, and if someone strikes a pregnant woman causing the child within her to die, that person may be charged with murder. How public-health practitioners can disregard the human rights of unborn human beings while claiming to be committed to do "what's best for the population" is a mystery to me.

The poor in society

Maybe the key to understanding her argument is found in the claim that most of the women seeking illegal abortions in Jamaica were "young, poor, unemployed and live in economically and socially deprived communities". It is children of that kind of person who can be killed for the good of the population as a whole.

Doctors take the Hippocratic oath, which embodies the ethics of the profession of medicine. It says, inter alia: "With regard to healing the sick, I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgement and means; and I will take care that they suffer no hurt or damage. Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child."

Dr Knight, exuberant chair of the National Family Planning Board, must believe she has a mandate to reduce Jamaica's population by any means necessary. Will the gas chambers be next? Old people, beware!

The Rev Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to