Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Human dignity, law and evolution-biology:

Why judges and lawyers should be taught biology

Human dignity is a name for a quality, characteristic for human life, according to the United Nations and the European court of human rights. Judges and lawyers use to refer to it when they state that each criminal person, sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, should get an outlook on release.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Supreme Court recently forced the government to make it clear to a criminal person, sentenced to lifelong imprisonment for robbery with murder of a whole family (two adults and two children), when and under what conditions he could be released.
The Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik, a fascist, who killed 77 young people, did not show any sign of regret, but did in contrast bring the Nazi salute at court. Nevertheless he was condemned to 21 years in prison only, which was by the way a few months for each of his murdered young ones. Should we now reconsider our ideas about Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, because of their human dignity? Should all present murderers of IS get an outlook on release from prison as a consequence of human dignity? What about the many millions of their murdered victims, their families and friends?

Regarding to this, each of us should be aware of four totally different problems when lawyers, mostly not familiar with evolution-biology, natural sciences and sometimes not even with rational thinking in general, are confronted with such a problem:
1. What exactly is the definition of human dignity: This problem is clearly not solved as yet. So far, no definition has been produced at all. In scientific terms, this would mean that it could not have any consequence, since it is no more than a chimera.
2. What exactly means human, given the gradual evolution of species. Is walking on two legs enough, or should there be more?
3. If we should consider human in a way as many people in the Western world would do at the moment: How about the past and the future? How about the place on earth, e.g. Africa or Syria?
4. The most strange aspect of the empty slogan "human dignity" is this. How is it possible that it is mainly used in favour of just those, who seem to be exceptionally unsuited for an association with any future definition of "human dignity", when it might be produced and whatever it might be?

1. As already mentioned: There is no definition at all. So, there should not be any consequence as yet.
2. & 3. However, the absence of a definition is logical, because it is practically impossible.  Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explained in his book: "So You think You 're Human? A brief history of Humankind", that it is rather difficult to define what exactly is human and what not. At exactly what time during the evolution (See e.g. Charles Darwin: "The descent of man") human dignity became applicable?
Of course we could rely on the similarity in DNA. But  is it fair to distinguish between a Chimpanzee and ourselves, since there is 98% similarity in our DNA?  If we look at our body, another vertebrate, the mouse for instance. It has nearly all organs and tissues as well as the composing cells and in turn the molecules composing the cells in common with men, but needs only 20 grams for that, where we need at least 2000 times as much, unless we are close to dying. Is our weight playing a role in human dignity? And if yes, why does that not apply to an elephant or a whale?
And how to look at the past, when black men, women and children were not considered human and were sold as slaves by our ancestors, who were in turn considered themselves to be good Christians by their environment?
If we consider empathy as a typical human characteristic, how about apes, whales, elephants, some of them showing more empathy than a lot of human beings (see e.g. Frans de Waal: "A time for empathy.")
4. Many good people in the world, women and children, are raped and/or killed by others, during the many wars, as a consequence of the law of the jungle or as a consequence of other reasons which are usually man-related.
Why should we focus exactly on those, who seem to deserve it least? Would it not be better to focus on those who deserve it most?

If we decide that lifelong imprisonment is inhuman, there is only one other possibility to protect the human society against the most extreme and violent criminals, who did never regret their actions or did it only after advice of a lawyer, hoping to reduce jail sentence.
That possibility is capital punishment.
There are several reasons to have strong objections against capital punishment:
1. Capital punishment is irrevocable, whereas one's guilt has not always been proven unequivocally.
2. Ethnicity appeared often to influence infliction of capital punishment.
3. Last but not least: Capital punishment is often used to get rid of opponents, whose only crime was to have another opinion than the rulers of the moment.
To summarise the present situation in the world: Most human beings condemned to capital punishment did not deserve it, but most of them that did deserve it, did not get it.

I  can agree with lawyers that nobody can be made responsible for his acts given that these are the final consequence of genes and environment and especially of the tremendous interaction of these factors mutually influencing their effect on human behaviour. However, I cannot agree with the idea that innocent citizens should be exposed to such acts of violence, because of the human dignity of  criminals.
If a possible definition of human dignity would be given, it should anyway be based on empathy with other men and even with other forms of life, and only allow aggression in order to protect oneself or other men against violent robbery, violent sexual passion or other forms of violence.
Given this, human society should be protected against criminals, especially if repetition might be expected. Lifelong imprisonment should remain a necessary possibility for that reason.
However, criminals condemned to lifelong imprisonment should be offered euthanasia, if they would prefer that option.
So, lawyers and politicians could better focus on a general human right: Euthanasia, a right for anyone who is considering his or her life as ready to be finished, because he or she is considering prolongation of that life as unbearable. Euthanasia will be the subject of one of the next blogs.
Nico van Rooijen, April 18, 2017, Haarlem NL

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