Mcfall V. Shimp: Right to Bodily Security Essay

In 1978 a case was brought to civil court to challenge a well-established American idea of a person’s absolute right to bodily security. The Plaintiff, McFall, suffered from a rare bone marrow disease and was in need of a bone marrow transplant. The Defendant, Shimp, was a suitable potential donor who refused to undergo the procedure needed to harvest the bone marrow. When Shimp refused, McFall sought an injunction to compel him to do so based on an out dated statute of an old English court which the current court is derived from.

The court was faced with the question of whether or not an individual is under legal compulsion to give aid to save another. Judge John Flaherty denied the Plaintiff’s request for an injunction based upon our society’s fundamental belief in a person’s right to bodily security. Judge Flaherty felt that compelling Shimp to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and principle upon which American society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual.

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For this case it was prudent to recognize when ethics and the law meet and when they repel.The court realized that ethically, this decision rested with the Defendant, and the refusal of the Defendant is morally indefensible. Regardless the court ruled in favor of the defended to protect an individuals rights and freedoms. When reviewing this case, there were several main issues that had to be considered before forming a decision.

The first being if the ancient statute presented by the Plaintiff held precedent or not. In concurrence with Judge Flaherty, the statute of King Edward I does not currently hold precedent.Not only is this statute about seven hundred years old, it is also formed to serve the needs of a society that had different priorities. In the time period of King Edward I, the society had collectivist values in which an individual had a duty to serve society. The communitarian society firmly believed that all body parts belonged to those who needed them. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marx). Marx’s quotation expresses the mindset of the statute.

An individual is expected to give as much as possible to live within one’s needs and only receive based upon their need.This is because there are no personal possessions, but rather everything is owned by the state and distributed based upon who is in need of it. According to this rational Shimp would have to undergo an uncomfortable procedure against his wishes because his life was not dependent on the bone marrow, while McFall was. Ethically, a collectivist society presents a system that is seen as morally just in ways. McFall’s life is reliant on the harvest of Shimp’s bone marrow, a procedure that shows no immediate or obvious threat to Shimp’s life aside from some discomfort.

According to collectivism Shimp’s discomfort is worth the pain in order to preserve McFall’s life. However, the past collectivist view does not represent society today’s views. Present American society is based on an autonomistic philosophy and has an individualistic viewpoint that is the source of law. American society’s first priority is the rights of the individual, and that society and the government are in place to serve and protect the individual’s rights and freedoms. The impact of today’s societal pressures is evident in McFall v. Shimp.According to society today, Shimp is not required to and has the right not to donate the bone marrow needed for the transplant even if it is unethical. “In preserving such a society as we have it is bound to happen that great moral conflicts will arise and still appear harsh in a given instance” (Judge Flaherty).

Although the Court viewed the Defendant’s decision as morally inexcusable, it could not compel the Defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body given the importance society had placed on an individuals freedoms. In the case of Eisenstadt v.Baird, Justice Brennan stated, “if the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual…to be free from unwanted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a persons as the decision whether to bear or beget a child. ” Based on Justice Brennan discussion of privacy, it can be inferred that it would be unconstitutional to force a person to give their body to another because it would infringe on an individual’s right to privacy and autonomy. The second issue that needed to be address in the case of McFall v.Shimp was what precedent the ruling would set for future cases. In the event of the court ruling in favor of the Plaintiff and compelling the Defendant to an intrusion of his body lead way to many discrepancies.

Initially the outcomes of imposing such a law seem harmless and beneficial to the greater good of society as a whole. Less people would die awaiting a transplant and would go on to live healthier lives. Although there would be some benefits, this ruling would lead way to possible extremely harmful outcomes.Judged Flaherty states, “to do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual and would impose a rule which would know no limits and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn”. Judge Flaherty acknowledges that there is great potential risk to an individual’s rights if he were to rule in favor of the Defendant. He believes that there is potential of past crimes against humanity perpetrated by Nazis’ and the Inquisition to occur once more.

Allowing the injunction leads way to the idea that people do not own their own bodies, but the state does instead and therefore can perform any procedure without hesitation.Aside from forcibly removing body tissue, this injunction would lead way to other bodily invasions by the state, such as unwanted experimental drug testing or preventing persons from driving . So long as the invasion has potential to benefit society or another individual these forced procedures would be seen as just by setting this precedent in McFall v. Shimp. The court saw this as a realistic threat to individual freedoms and therefore ruled against the Plaintiff and stopped the injunction. The court took a precautionary approach when denying that an individual is under legal compulsion to give aid to save another.

This ruling sets future precedent to hold an individual’s bodily security is a priority even if it endangers another human. When ruling over the case Judge Flaherty had to separate what was ethical and what was legal. To do so the Court looked at two main components of the case, past precedent presented and the potential precedent that would be set. An understanding of these two issues allowed the Court to rule if society was legally able infringe upon ones absolute right to bodily security in order to save the life of one of its members.When reviewing the Plaintiff’s cited ancient statute, Judge Flaherty noted that this statute was based in a society that valued society over individual rights. These collectivist values do not match up with those of present American society, which emphasizes individual rights and society protecting those rights. Given that the values of the two societies did not match up, the court ruled that the ancient statute did not hold precedent. Without precedent the court then turned to examine what the future may hold if ruled for or against the Plaintiff.

In this analysis of if the injunction was granted it was found that the injunction would defeat the sanctity of the individual and would impose a rule that would know no limits. Judge Flaherty was concerned that this would give an opportunity for great restrictions on an individual’s rights and freedoms that are considered constitutionally fundamental. The court ruled that an individual is not under legal compulsion to give aid to save another because it would infringe on one’s right to bodily security that today’s society sees as fundamental.


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