Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yue Yue - Never Again!

It is a central and universal teaching in Judaism that Torah can, should, and must be ignored to save a life. Bystanders have a "religious, ethical and legal" duty to help those in danger (even if they're non-Jews!).  So while I didn't hear about this story when it first broke last week, only learning of it from Geek in Heels today, I am sure it will surprise no one that I join the ranks of those horrified by this event. Originally I was going to say "shocked and horrified", but the more I thought about it, the less shocked I was. From Jenny's blog post:

But when discussing the story over dinner last week, my in-laws told me a couple of things that set things in perspective:
  1. Due to the underdeveloped legal infrastructure in China, there have been many cases in the past where a good samaritan would step in to a stranger’s aid, only to be blamed and charged with the crime they had never committed.
  2. Additionally, local laws dictate that if a person is found guilty of devastatingly injuring another person(s), they are responsible for all of the medical bills and expenses for the rest of the victim’s life. This, coupled with the fact that the majority of the Chinese population — especially in poorer regions like Foshan where Yue Yue lived — would not be able to afford to financially provide medical care, leads people to leave victims for dead rather than help. That is, they would rather go to jail for manslaughter than be in debt (and become a burden and embarrassment to their families) for the rest of their lives.
This isn’t to say that I — or even my in-laws — believe what the 18 passerbys did was right. Neither am I justifying their actions (or lack thereof, in this case).
But now that I have been informed these cultural factors, I can better understand what had happened.
While some blame China's pursuit of economic growth and educational system, most stories confirm Jenny's; Good Samaritans in China help others at their own risk. It even seems some good may come of this; at least one university has pledged legal defense support to Good Samaritans (and started a new meme in the process), and international attention has ignited a new debate about China's ethical future.

So horrified? Yes. Hopefully this will catalyze positive change? Yes. But surprised? No; not at all. This is, after all, the Capitalist ideal.

My high school government teacher used to refer to "capital-C Communism" versus "small-C communism" to differentiate Marx's political theory from the real-world governments of the same name - say what you will about its validity, Marx's theory never killed anyone; that was the government that co-opted it. It is in that spirit I refer to Capitalism; not the economic theory, but the way we see it practiced in America today, where people are financially incented to let their neighbor's house burn down. Where we take as given that we're willing to let children starve to death and freeze on the street, and only debate how much we're willing to let it occur.

Look, what happened to Yue Yue should never be allowed to happen anywhere ever again. Good Samaritan protections should be universal and powerful; no one should hesitate to help those in danger because they fear financial or legal retribution. But let's stop kidding ourselves that this obligation to help others only applies on the individual level, and only to emergencies that happen right in front of us. Starving a child kills them just as surly as hitting them with a car - it just takes longer.

None of us are obligated to save the world entire; what is expected of us is what we are able to provide and no more. It's the "and no less" part that gets forgotten. Some see this as encouraging individual action, with each of us giving as best we are able (hey; that sounds like small-C communism!). In truth, though, what we as a nation are capable of is so much greater than what we as individuals can do that it is unconscionable to me to settle for anything less.

This is the origin of my political "liberalism". Not a desire to coddle everyone or contribute to a culture of entitlement, but a deeply held conviction that when the power of the world's mightiest nation is applied problems like hunger, poverty, and sickness cannot stand.

Do I honestly believe we can feed, clothe, educate, house, and treat every soul in the world? No; not even every in our own country. But I do believe we can save many. And I, for one, want to be sure the next time a child dies that I was not an inactive bystander.


  1. "To save a single life is to save the world."

    I know you will never be an inactive bystander.