August 19, 2016

Harm principle and law making

The concept of freedom has been one of the most controversial topics concerning societies throughout history.  There have been endless debates on the different aspects of freedom and the limits of legitimate state and social action. The basic definition of freedom is the ability to think or act as one wishes. In other words, freedom is a condition under which people have the opportunity to speak, act and pursue happiness without unnecessary external restrictions.
In this regard, Locke viewed that government should ensure the prevalence of individual right to life, liberty and property whilst Rousseau stated that people can be forced to be free. According to the Isaiah Berlin, there are two forms of freedom: the positive freedom and the negative freedom. The negative freedom is defined as being free from external restraints or limits on what one person can do whereas the positive freedom is described as being empowered to be free.  Thus, the government will provide certain services such as education, job opportunities, healthcare benefits, and poverty alleviation in order to ensure it achieves its goals. At the same time, laws and regulations should also be enacted to ensure the prevalence of peace, stability and order as well as liberty for establishing a peaceful, secure and prosperous community.
In contrast, concerning liberty, John Stuart Mill stated that the individual is sovereign who has complete power over his own body and soul. According to his harm principle, a person can do whatever he wants to do as long as his actions do not harm others.
In this regard, it is important to consider both physical harm and psychological harm to the people in a society. Physical harm is defined as the deliberate pain inflicted on someone by another through kicking, punching, slapping or any other type of aggressive physical contact.
The psychological harm is defined as
emotional or cognitive disturbances resulting from one’s actions.
However, the harm principle does not specify what qualifies as harm. So, there still is a problem when a self-regarding action becomes another-regarding action. There is no clear line of demarcation to differentiate between actions. A case of euthanasia, mercy killing, coup de grace or assisted suicide can be taken as a good example. In such a case, one has a right to end one’s own life as one is in persistent suffering from severe pain caused by a terminal illness. They have the right to die if they don’t want to continue their own life. However, it is against the law for a physician to assist suicide.
This being so, although the harm principle could be applied to cases that do not harm other people, it is not applicable to the law making process to achieve a better society.


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