Friday, March 06, 2009

Easy Cases and Bad Laws

There is an old saying in the legal community: "hard cases make bad law", but maybe that saying should be changed to "easy cases make worse law". From time to time we hear about incidents so bizarre, absurd or ludicrous that their stupidity seems to cry out for government intervention. Such easy cases make really horrible laws. The case of the Octo-mom - the bizarre single mother, who after having six children gave birth to octuplets, by means of in-vitro fertilization. Listen, there is something plainly wrong with that woman, but you wouldn't see me writing about such tabloid fare if not for an even more preposterous person: Georgia State Senator Ralph Hudgens, who recently introduced a bill to regulate the number of embryos that may be implanted into a woman's womb. Seriously? 

That's what I call completely bogus legislation. The esteemed senator - and I use esteemed in loosest sense of the word - seems to think that there is a serious issue here that merits strict regulation. How many times, Mr. Senator, have we run into a problem of this nature that you decided that a law must be placed on the books to eliminate this public nuisance? Regulation is not free. It has a carrying cost. Government should not inflate the law books for the questionable benefit of preventing a rare and bizarre case. Does such questionable benefit justify replacing the judgement of medical professionals and their patients who desperately want to have a child? If something is wrong with the Octo-mom, we have such perfectly adequate institutions as child protective services and mental institutions. A law is most certainly not needed, just as one was not needed and was morally abhorrent in the case of Terry Schiavo

Of course in this specific case, I suspect that state senator Hudgens is riding the octo-mom horse to push a pro-life agenda. And that's the other thing that's bad about easy cases: it gives special interest groups a red-herring by which to further their pre-existing agenda. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that copy cat laws and regulations will now pop-up all over the country. Who can resist the lure of such easy cases?

Our self righteous legislators and government officials should mind their own business. Their role as legislators gives them no moral advantage or additional intelligence to make people's decisions for them. 'Nuff said.

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Mr. ToughMoneyLove said...

Before jumping to a conclusion that the sponsor of this legislation has ulterior motives, have you considered that perhaps he is concerned about the welfare of the children born from the abuse of for-profit reproductive technology, such as that demonstrated by the truly mentally disturbed "octo-mom"? Who will look out for these children? They have lives of hell to look forward to.

Shadox said...

Mr. Tough - if you think I am unjustly ascribing ulterior motives to the innocent, please read the link that I included in the post. The dear senator pretty much explains his motives.

Here's my main point: I am not going to argue that this octo-mom nut case is sane. I am not going to argue that her kids have a good life ahead of them or that what she did was anything short of child abuse. However, my contention is that we have wide ranging and sufficient tools to deal with such exceptions. If there is a problem there, send in child protection services. Revoke the woman's custody and parental rights if necessary. All I am saying is that laws are a very blunt instrument. They can do a whole lot of damage if placed on the books without careful consideration.

I will say one more thing: laws cannot and should not try to be 100% effective. There will always be loop holes that will drive people insane with rage. Nevertheless, we need to resist the temptation to legislate stupidity and bizarre cases away. First, we will not succeed, ever, because reality is more varied and diverse than any legislator will be able to address in law. Second, by trying to resolve fringe cases by law, our laws become so radical and so restrictive, that they put the natural freedoms of people at risk.

Better to suffer an octo-mom once in a while than have thousands of infertile would-be moms and dads miss out on the chance to become parents. The cost GREATLY and INSANELY exceeds the dubious benefit.

plonkee said...

Actually, I'm fairly sure that in the UK there is a limit to the number of embryos you can have implanted in one time (I'm certain it's less than 8) - it's the responsibility of a medical ethics committee to decide (making it semi-mandatory) rather than being part of legislation though. I think the main feeling is that IVF is a medical treatment aimed at producing live births, not just a viable pregnancy.

There are probably details that I'm not familiar with but is that ok, or not ok in your opinion?

Shadox said...

Plonkee, the approach you describe is better. However, I believe that this is a matter of medical ethics that should be regulated by the medical community. After all, this is a medical procedure.

If a doctor has acted unethically under the circumstances, there are typically disciplinary actions that can be taken against him.

Generally speaking the medical profession is pretty good at resolving ethical dilemmas that come up during the course of treatment. Perhaps issuing specific industry wide ethical guidelines is the way to go.