Monday, January 20, 2014

The price of suffering

There was a terrible incident last year where a man in New Mexico was repeatedly anally violated and xrayed by police and medical professionals in a unethical and illegal search for drugs.  The search turned up exactly nothing and it turns out it was based on made up facts in the first place.  Just recently his lawsuit was resolved and he was awarded $1.6 million dollars in damages.  This is the sort of thing that brings out all kinds of strong opinions from people who think it is fine that the police do anything in pursuit of the War On Drugs to people who hate on police for pursuing the War On Drugs to people who just think it would be awesome to be repeatedly raped by the police as long as they get paid.  It is this last group is driving me bonkers today.

The troubles with this viewpoint are many.  First off it completely ignores the fact that the man was subject to several unethical medical procedures including multiple xrays which are usually pretty safe but are not risk free.  Subjecting someone to them for no reason is completely unacceptable from a medical point of view.  He was also subject to a colonoscopy which is widely accepted as one of the most painful medical procedures we know of and also carries notable risk of puncturing the intestine which would require immediate emergency surgery to avoid the death of the patient.  Even if you are sure that a particular person has drugs in their rectum there is no possible world in which these medical procedures are warranted.

The second issue is that we do not evaluate the reward of a lawsuit by calculating how much a person might demand to be paid for a vague facsimile of the situation.  Me agreeing to have a finger up my butt for $20 is *not* the same as forcibly confining someone, forcing them to submit to a finger up their butt, and then offering $20 in compensation.  The terror and suffering of not knowing when it will stop, of having no choice, and of being physically forced is by far the source of the problem, not the actual act.  When a person is raped under more expected circumstances we don't look to standard rates for sex workers to determine what to do to the attacker and the same principle applies here.

Lastly we must carefully consider what message we want to send.  Is it really appropriate to send the message to the police that we should just figure out an appropriate wage to pay the victim for his suffering?  Surely not.  The appropriate thing to do is to indicate that this event is so awful, so unacceptable, so wildly outside the bounds of what government can legally do that the reward must be enormous.  Of course we should also make sure that every medical professional and police officer who knowingly assisted this act (some refused) should be booted unceremoniously out of their profession and the whole lot should be subject to criminal prosecution.

It is easy to see how they went so far.  Like in a movie script they ended up realizing that they had done something terribly wrong and the only way out was to double down over and over until the situation went from indefensible to heinous.  What we must do though is to not make light of this event nor ask to be submitted to it ourselves for cash.  What happened was a tragedy and dismissing it as a good way to make money ignores the terrifying question of how often this has happened to others and how likely it is to happen to us.

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