I refer to the report “Saudi court rejects paralysis punishment” (ST, Aug 25). It is an interesting case where in a fight between two people, one was paralysed. The victim requested that the person in the fight with him be imposed with an equivalent punishment under Islamic law. After consulting with Saudi hospitals, the judge ruled that such an operation could be fatal and suggested blood money be considered a fair deal. According to the Straits Times, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that a leading hospital in Riyadh – King Faisal Specialist Hospital – announced it could not do the operation saying, “inflicting such harm is not possible” on ethical grounds. I presume according to the Hippocratic Oath.
This raises a pertinent question about its far-reaching content where Islamic law, it is claimed, permits an eye for an eye punishment, and is translated here into paralysis, becomes applicable . The victim and his family have insisted on the eye for an eye principle and are not interested in blood money compensation. The victim’s family are ready to send the one, involved in the fight, abroad for the operation should the kingdom’s hospitals refuse to do it. The question that arises is, where? Which hospital in the world would perform such an operation, which is against ethics where a hospital and doctors are bound by their oath to cure and not to confer paralysis on a healthy body. Medical jurisprudence, as far as I know, is in antithesis to this. If in an Islamic kingdom the hospitals fight shy of this act, why would any hospital, especially in the West, condone such an act?
There are two principles of ethical individualism – the principle of equal importance where it is stressed, from an objective point of view, that human lives be successful rather than wasted ( where an eye for an eye is wastage). The second is the principle of special responsibility where although it is recognised the equal objective importance of the success of human life, the person whose life it is has the final responsibility for its success (where the person involved served his sentence and is now a school teacher); parenthesis is mine (Dworkin). The paramount or pivotal point around which revolves the judgment in the eye for an eye punishment is motive. Was there a premeditated motive to paralyse or was there no intention to do so and what happened was without premeditation – a fight where either party could have been unintentionally paralysed. Also, abroad there is no law that stipulates that in a fight between two individuals, violent or otherwise, the principle of an eye for an eye will come into force. In the first instance, there exists no such law waiting on the sidelines to invade jurisprudence should the fight end, for example, in paralysis for one party.
In this contextual situation, talk of sending the other party abroad to undergo an operation to make him paralysed makes no sense because the world, outside the Islamic sphere, does not believe nor harbour the eye for an eye vengeance. There are laws that confer the death penalty for certain acts in certain countries but so far no country, as far as I know, has enacted a law where, for example, a negligent or reckless motorist, who kills a pedestrian, motorcyclist, or cyclist, goes to the gallows. There has been a call recently, in the forum, for such recklessness to be punished by death, in the eye for an eye principle, but our legal system, fortunately, was not enamoured with the idea. To reiterate, Islamic hospitals have rejected the call to perform the operation and the Saudi court has also rejected the proposal, suggesting alternate compensation. Therefore, to seek this specific vengeance abroad would be fruitless because if entertained a precedent will be set where, even in sport, as in boxing, when one boxer is paralysed by a blow, or by falling unconscious because of the blow, damaging his head on the ground and becoming paralysed, the eye for an eye principle would demand the other boxer be subjected to the same fate. Reductio ad absurdum.
26 Aug 10