of law and hope…

The Chinese legal system and Rule of Law are emotional topics for both westerners and Chinese alike. I haven’t spoken enough with westerners to understand our emotional investment in the development of China’s legal system. However, that may be the point — we’re emotionally attached to our investments… Nevertheless, tempted though I am to pursue that line of thought, what I’m actually pondering is how the promulgation of specific laws might serve as symbols of hope.

One of my good friends is a doctor. She became a doctor to help people. Like many US physicians, however, she has discovered that the system itself is often the reason people suffer, her medical interventions notwithstanding. Yesterday, she mentioned that in Chinese hospitals, doctors are not required to report suspected abuse and rapes to the authorities. Apparently, there is little likelihood that the police would follow-up on these allegations and even less chance that they would offer protection to doctors who reported suspected abuse and rape cases. Instead, if any reporting is to be done, the victims must do it themselves, even when they may have to go home with their attackers. If this situation sounds familiar, I suspect because the situation is not unique to Chinese hospitals.

How might the promulgation of reporting laws make the situation more hopeful? It’s clear that in the US, despite our love-hate relationship with lawyers and morbid fascination with prison culture, our laws don’t prevent people from beating and raping, or even killing others. Clearly, whatever prevents us from harming each other — call it moral imperative or compassion or divine spark — we know that it isn’t the law, unless by “law” we refer to some metaphysical state of being. And there’s the rub. There is an important difference between preventing abuse and preventing continued abuse. In the former case, we seem to be talking about cultivating ethical lives — law in the metaphysical sense, while in the latter case, we’re picking up the pieces of broken lives — law as written and enforced by particular societies.

Obviously, picking up the pieces is important work because no matter our best intentions we make mistakes. More often than not those mistakes are dreadfully painful for ourselves and others — and the question becomes: how do we stop ourselves from repeating the same mistake? And how should society intervene when we can’t stop ourselves from continuing to harm others?

It is mulling these questions that I sense the link between law and hope in my friend’s call for hospital protocols to report and concomitant police followthrough. Even if we can’t unbeat, unrape, or unkill anyone, nevertheless the first step to ameliorating the suffering caused by violence is to acknowledge our wounds and culpability, making every effort to stop a perpetrator from beating, raping, or killing again. Reporting protocols would would not only institutionalize the social intention to prevent subsequent abuse, but also create a context for hoping that the abuse can be ended. Likewise, police followthrough would demonstrate both society’s commitment to and its belief in a basic standard of justice. Thus, today I’m wondering if in the absence of hospital protocols for recognizing and reporting abuse, we leave ourselves floundering in the same hopeless quagmire as my friend found herself last night — why are we healing bodies when we haven’t articulated a collective intention to improve human lives?

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