tisdag 9 oktober 2012

Hard cases and bad laws

There is an old saying that hard cases make bad law. One of the arguments used against the abolition of slavery was that elderly widows depended on them. Elderly widows are wheeled out whenever the issue of land value taxation is raised - the example given is of the 95 year old woman whose husband bought a 2-up-2-down slum terrace house in 1946 for £100 with his demob money and now the site it is standing on is worth a million. Under a system of land value taxation she would be subject to a heavy tax even though she has only her meagre pension to live on and the house itself is falling down, has no bathroom and only an outside toilet.

Campaigners for tougher abortion laws face the same kind of thing. Opponents ask, "What about women who have become pregnant as a result of rape?" Or "What about pregnancies where tests have shown that the baby, if born, would be seriously disabled and a burden on the parents?"

Those who are campaigning for changes like this are generally not so stupid as to realise that there may be situations where exceptions to a principle may have to be made or dealt with in a more accomodating way.

Picking on hard cases is a dishonest debating technique which is used by people who are wholly opposed to whatever it is that is being suggested. One might as well argue against speed limits on the grounds that someone might be on their way to the hospital with an acutely ill passenger in the car.

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