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UPDATED: September 1, 2015 NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 3, 2015
Should Good Samaritans Be Protected by Law?


The Beijing Municipal Government has recently issued draft regulations that mean to encourage more people to help those who need first aid, including seniors suddenly stricken by certain conditions. These regulations come amid a spate of reports of well-intentioned individuals who come to the aid of elderly people and end up being subject to slander or worse, blackmail. If passed, the local legislation will offer legal support for these good Samaritans so that they need not worry about being blackmailed after doing a good deed. The document provides that people who perpetrate unfounded slander and blackmail against those that help them shall be held legally accountable.

As cases of blackmail under these circumstances are now triggering widespread public indignation, this document has been widely applauded. However, some argue that the elderly in these cases are acting out of a sense of desperation incurred by a lack of proper medical insurance. Thus they see fraudulent claims as merely symptomatic of the disease and the lack of basic social guarantees as the principal underlying cause.

A timely measure

Dong Xiaoxun (www.people.com.cn): If you see a senior falling to the ground, should you risk helping him or her up? This ostensibly simple question nowadays poses somewhat a conundrum for Chinese people. If we have laws to prevent kind-hearted folk from being blackmailed and punish those who pursue illegal claims, more people will be predisposed toward giving a hand to the elderly when they fall down. More importantly, people will dare to help those genuinely in need of help.

Yin Jianguang (www.youth.cn): The majority of people are actually willing to help if they encounter elderly people who have taken a tumble. So why have many become indifferent to the plight of others? The reason is simple: They don't want to open themselves up to years of disputes that could end in their personal downfall. There are already too many examples of good people having fallen into this very trap. As a result, many people choose to turn a blind eye, in spite of their guilt and the possibility that the person may be in genuine distress.

The reality is, by helping a senior who has fallen, you are placing yourself under great risk as almost zero laws and regulations exist to simultaneously protect good Samaritans and punish those who exploit their virtuous nature. China is in desperate need of laws to rein in the decline in moral standards.

Though good deeds are widely encouraged in Chinese society, sometimes encouragement alone is not enough, particularly when doing good deeds becomes such a risky business. We must have strong legal support for those who act to help others, for their good and in the spirit of fair play.

It's true that morality is something that rises from the bottom of one's heart, but it also needs to be instituted in law. It is thus suggested that good people be offered access to legal aid, economic compensation and relevant protective measures and false claimants be held accountable for their shameful deeds. In this way, good people can help others unabashedly, while the incidence of false claims and blackmailing could be greatly reduced.

Li Wei (www.xinhuanet.com): Even if they are faced with huge risks, many still choose to help their common man, and most elderly people express their thanks rather than opportunistically blackmailing their guardian angels. However, we can't simply ignore cases where the latter occurs.

The repeated occurrence of such is making the public increasingly leery of doing good deeds. Debates on whether elderly citizens should be helped up in the first instance are not uncommon. People are being discouraged from indulging the better sides of their nature, and it is therefore widely assumed that the level of morality is experiencing a slide downward. Whether or not to help the elderly up is not the crux of the issue. As long as the Chinese legal system continues to disregard and offers no help to those guilty of no crime greater than gullibility, while at the same time incentivizing blackmailers and false claimants, what should be a basic moral imperative will remain a moot point for many.

Chinese tradition stresses respect and care for the elderly. In order to carry on this tradition and prevent blackmailing, a modest suggestion would be installing more surveillance cameras in public places such as bus stops and railway stations. Also, witnesses should be encouraged to come forth to dispel false accusations. In addition, efforts should be made to downplay the exaggerated frequency of blackmailing cases and assure the public most people, be they youngsters or the elderly, are kind-hearted.

Apart from giving good people their due, it's also important to adopt laws to punish those who deliberately slander and blackmail these citizens. Perpetrators must be made to pay a price for their abhorrent behavior, as their practices have cast a shadow over the whole of society and are accelerating the process of moral degeneration.

Nie Shuiying (Jiaxing Daily): In the face of incidents of good people being slandered and blackmailed by the senior citizens they help, more and more people are choosing to stay clear of such situations. If the law does not address the small group of people who take advantage of others' kindness to make money, it will not only hurt the individuals who offer help, but worse still, it will also pose a threat to the very moral fabric of society.

There is a serious lesson to be learnt here. How can we restore social credibility and encourage more people to do good? We need a mechanism to safeguard kind-hearted individuals, so as to remove people's inhibitions about doing the right thing in any given situation. This mechanism must severely punish those who dare to blackmail those who help them. They must be made legally and morally accountable.

Huang Guosheng (www.jschina.com.cn): People who extend a helping hand to the fallen elderly should be examples for others to learn from, but nowadays such people are from time to time slandered and blackmailed. Particularly if the victim of blackmail is a young person, the showdown might accompany him or her all the way.

Such elderly people are lacking in basic scruples and their actions are in clear violation of the law. The law is not supposed to let them go unpunished just because they are in their twilight years. Their behavior has exacerbated the modern crumbling of morality. In some cases, although good Samaritans have offered to pay the medical expenses of their "victims," the injured will still make a false counter charge as they don't want to repay them. In some extreme cases, the whole family of the elderly person will request sizeable compensation. These people have violated laws by slandering and blackmailing innocent people. If the laws remain silent on the issue, more good people will be wronged, and what kind of negative impact will that impose on society, particularly on the young? The laws have an irreplaceable role to play in safeguarding us against such an eventuality.

Welfare matters

Wang Chuantao (Chaozhou Daily): This May, an elderly person in her 70s fell down in the middle of a crowded subway. The person who carelessly knocked the lady down was so fearful and worried that she cried. The lady assured her by saying, "Don't worry! I won't blackmail you as I have a pension and medical insurance." The implications of this woman's remarks are clear. Many elderly people who fall down and get hurt lack either a pension or medical insurance, and thus accidents leave them saddled with serious financial difficulties. Under these circumstances, the temptation to blackmail or make a false claim against the ones that help them up becomes very great indeed.

Good social systems make good citizens and good welfare improves the citizens' moral character. When people feel safe and secure in their lives, how many of them will feel compelled to do things that contravene basic morality? All the criticism in word will not prove a factor so effective in the reversal of moral decline as the provision of medical insurance to the elderly.

Therefore, while debating whether or not we should help seniors to their feet, society should face up to the reality that many of our nation's elderly enjoy not even the most rudimentary medical insurance, a fact that indicts us all.

Copyedited by Eric Daly

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