Course:Law3020/2014WT1/Group D/Natural Law

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Traditional Natural Law Theory: Law for the Common Good

Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas is a natural law theorist who believes that the source of law is independent of human creation, and that it can be discovered by human beings through the exercise of their reason. Thomas Aquinas takes a teleological approach by stating that the purpose of law is to obtain the common good. The common good aims for goods that are essential to all human beings, such as the pursuit of self-preservation, happiness and living in a stable community. Human beings' ability to reason, as crafted by God, inclines him to the common good. He acknowledges that human beings are not perfect, and that there may be times where reasoning leads to unjust laws. In these cases, there is a duty to not obey unjust laws.

In order for a law to be valid, the law must be satisfy the following criteria:
(1) it must be derived from reason;
(2) it must be issued by the person or group who holds lawmaking authority within the community;
(3) it must be directed toward the common good; and
(4) it must be promulgated.

Case Study: Eldridge v B.C.

In Eldridge v British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 3 SCR 624, the court held that the omission to provide medical coverage for sign language interpreters infringes on s.15(1) of the Charter, which aims to protect disadvantaged groups from discrimination. The omission was not reasonably justified under s.1 of the Charter because the government's total denial of medical interpretation services for the deaf was not a minimal impairment of their rights. Thomas Aquinas would decide the case differently by arguing that the Medical Services Commission's decision met the four criteria mentioned above, and the fact that some individuals are unable to gain equal access to medical services is reasonable in order for society to maintain stability and aim towards the common good.

1. Is the law derived from practical reason?
Thomas Aquinas believes that since human beings are rational creatures, it is possible for them to take reasonable steps towards the common good. In the Eldridge case, the court found that it would be unreasonable to completely deny the deaf population from equal access to health care. Aquinas would hold that the law is valid because it was enacted through practical reason. Legislators have decided that the purpose of the law is to provide free access to health care, not equal access. The fact that some individuals may not have the same quality of care is inconsequential to the original intent of free access. It is a policy decision which takes into account the reality of budgetary constraints, and judges should allow deference to the legislator's approach to this social issue.

2. Is the law created by a valid lawmaker?
Thomas Aquinas notes that a valid lawmaker is a ruler within the community who holds this position by reason of the natural order. Specifically, Aquinas believes that some people naturally rule, and because of this innate nature, these rulers know what the common good is and are capable of leading society towards this goal. This objective is so important that the use of threats, force, and punishment is permissible in order to regulate behaviour towards a stable community. In British Columbia, laws are created by the legislature. Since it is not practical for elected members to handle the day-to-day workings within the community, it has been accepted practice for the legislature to delegate powers to individuals to implement policies. Although Aquinas does not favour democracy and would be slightly skeptical of individuals with delegated powers, he would likely agree that the elected legislative members are valid lawmakers and those with delegated powers are valid lawmakers because the majority of the community are in the habit of obedience to them. Therefore, Aquinas would agree that in this case, the Medical Services Commission is a valid lawmaker and its decisions regarding coverage of medical services is a valid exercise of lawmaking powers.

3. Is the law directed towards the common good?
Thomas Aquinas believes that the common good is associated with creating universal happiness for the community. In order to achieve happiness, law imposes rules so that there will be order and stability within the community. In the Eldridge case, Aquinas would reason that the Medical Services Commission's omission to provide interpreters for the deaf population is permitted because it is not contrary to the common good. We must remember that the common good is associated with striving towards a stability in the community because stability leads to happiness. The legislative purpose of the provision is to provide free access to health care. There is no requirement for the lawmaker to be bound by the wishes of everyone in society.

In addition, in God's eyes, all are equal, and so equal treatment should be given to individuals. The differences between individuals are part of the natural state created by God, and human reasoning should not interfere with this unique characteristic given by the divine. Similarly, Thomas Aquinas' definition of equality for the common good does not take into account equality against discrimination. Natural law is the human interpretation of God's eternal law. Under this approach, physically disabled individuals are created by God naturally as deaf, and so it would be unequal to work against the natural workings of God through human interference. Aquinas is more concerned with the objective of ensuring order and stability within the community. Similarly, compensating for individuals who are deaf would not be for the benefit of equality since society would have to provide for the minority group. This would create great instability, and be contrary to the intentions of the lawmaker to invoke rules to lead individuals toward a common good.

4. Promulgation
Thomas Aquinas states that a valid law must be written or made known to society because it is impossible to obey a law if it is unknown. In this case, the Medical and Health Care Services Act and the Hospital Insurance Act have been promulgated through the legislative process. The aforementioned Acts are published and easily accessible by the public.

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