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

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Nicole, Mario, Sabah, Lorraine

Traditional Natural Law Theory: Law for the Common Good

Thomas Aquinas

Natural Law Theory

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.

Application to Case

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 most likely decide the case differently based on the importance of striving towards the common good.

1. 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 legislators have decided that the purpose of the law is to provide free access to health care. The fact that some individuals may not have the same quality of care is inconsequential to the original intent of free access.

2. 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 the Eldridge case, the court held that by treating everyone the same, the deaf population is exposed to adverse effects discrimination. On its face value, there is no discriminatory purpose of intention in the provision, but it nonetheless has the effect of denying the deaf population from access to equal benefit of the provision.

Aquinas would disagree with the court's decision by stating that the lawmaker is not bound to carry out the will and wishes of the community because the lawmaker's task is to aim for the common good. The lawmaker is in the best position to create laws, and the judges should show deference to the legislators and the people whom the legislators have delegated powers to.

3. 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. Common good focus on human prospering in both moral and spiritual values. In this sense, all are equal in the eyes of God, and 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.

In addition, 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. Thomas 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.