Justice in Lawainia

 Lawainia is regarded the most lawful country of the world. Compared to the number of inhabitants, there are more lawyers and judges than anywhere else. Moreover, the majority of our parliament members an education in law, thus ensuring that justice will prevail in our country. Against this background it might appear strange that there are so few well-defined laws but it is argued that the abundance of law-officials makes it possible to judge on the basis of superior principles, adapted to the individual case.

Having chosen another direction for my occupation, I was happily indifferent to any legal problems as long as they did not influence my medical profession. Unfortunately, exactly this happened. It occurred surreptitiously and there was a lot of murmuring in the dark but nothing that really threatened further development of this process. Worse, quite a lot of doctors actually assisted it, knowingly or not as shall be shown.

At first, there was the case Lawrence vs. Lawful City Hospital. No, upon closer look, it was not really the first damage claim, but certainly the first spectacular one considering the sum awarded to Mr. Lawrence, an amount to be surpassed just a few years later. The effects were dramatic: doctors' insurance fees went up, in turn causing their salaries and hospital costs to increase; doctors were forbidden to work without signed consent from the patients, covering all possibilities and thus implying that the patients would have to sign something almost similar to their own execution before they could receive medical aid; and in order to evade lawful prosecution, any emergency help was to be provided by laypeople who should not know too much in order to prevent their prosecution for having neglected something. Still, the Lawrence verdict stimulated hope for sudden wealth in many hearts; it also altered attitudes toward fate, accident and crime. Accidents did not just happen, they were caused by somebody and even then, there was a medical failure to blame if people did not rapidly regain complete health; the same expectations also applied to other disorders. Death was never the natural end of life as it had often been before, it was now an inevitable medical failure. So court cases with astronomical damage claims were mounting but, in the vast majority of cases, only the lawyers won. They always won, provided a case was carried through, so calls for modest settlements were not to be expected from their counsel. Health service became more expensive and simultaneously deteriorated rapidly in quality.

I had noticed this development skeptically but passively, as had almost all the other physicians. Activity could be found only among some physicians, usually in superior positions, who made common cause with the lawyers in defining what a just medical practise would be. As the words ‚standards' and ‚guidelines' became stigmatized by the dogma they represented, a new concept was found which should replace all, that of 'quality assurance.' Formally, this should guarantee that all patients received the currently preferred therapy - not necessarily the best, since the preconditions of quality assurances were themselves of an older age. In reality, it proved quite difficult always to follow these rules, making doctors vulnerable to more ‚violations' than had previously been the case. But the arguments for this development had nothing to do with lawyers and seemed beyond any dispute: improve the care for all patients and get rid of 'unnecessary' therapeutic attempts. For that reason, I remained as passive as all my colleagues and accepted the awkward development. Two coincidences, the first completely unrelated to medicine, altered this attitude.

I had bought a device for editing my videofilms, produced by a prominent Japanese firm. It did not work. The shop where I had bought it made some alterations, though completely in vain. Slowly almost six months passed, the limit for my rejection of the sale. It seemed that the shop was playing on time, so I contacted a lawyer to put strength to my arguments. He did so in opening a court case. Without really understanding the problem, he wrote some formally impressive letters, to be exchanged with the lawyer of the shop who understood as little. At the court proceedings, he managed to keep me away while the shopkeeper was there as a witness. All court decisions are some kind of a game, but here I had the odds against me, in that there was only one person present who understood what it was all about, and that was not me. In response to the inevitable decision against me, costing as much in court costs as the useless device itself, the shop offered me substantial economic compensation, probably feeling pity for me having such a lousy lawyer.

I paid the bills and thought I had learned a lesson. Almost immediately after, John Smokey was ordered an immense damage claim from a tobacco company because he had developed pulmonary cancer. Mr. Smokey claimed that he had never thought that smoking might be dangerous for his health. I was not directly involved in the case but more than 10 years before, I had read a 'black mass' (as we used to call it when telling a patient thoroughly of the danger of smoking once symptoms were already present) to Mr. Smokey following his heart attack, when other signs of arteriosclerosis were also present. Wrong again, one might say, he was not going to die from that. It affected me how such an outright lie could be awarded with an impressive sum, permitting Mr. Smokey more than luxury for the short remainder of his life.

I did not interfere in this legal case. What I had said to a patient was not open for spontaneous disclosure by me. But I wrote an angry letter to the editor of our regional newspaper. In this letter, I listed arguments about how the legal circus itself damaged our society by rewarding idiots and liars and how it undermined our system in various ways. I also wrote how lawyers enriched themselves through their positions, and only seldom by their deeds, how they agreed about the outcome of a court case long before the judges had spoken, and I concluded with the report that so many rockets had been sent to the moon, but never had there been a lawyer upon any of them.

The day after, the newspaper reported that a person had been fired for not having critically edited the letters that were printed. Only a small minority of these were actually published, and then in an abbreviated form, they stated. My letter was not directly mentioned, that would have raised an undesirable announcement effect, but I guess this was the reason for the mentioned action. However, I found it had been cut out from the newspaper and was being kept and shown, or even displayed, by many of the people with whom I was in touch.

I had been active and this fact alone appeased me, although the earth continued its usual rotation and it was impossible to identify any other reactions to my initiative. Just some days later, I discovered that my wallet had been stolen - at least that was what I thought, but shortly afterwards I found it in one of the twenty pockets I believed already to have investigated. I looked into it: All the money was there, the credit cards, the drivers license, only my membership card to the local sports club was missing and I could not recall having taken it out. Apparently, however, I must have done it sometime before, because who would steal such an unimportant item?

It was more than two weeks later when I was called to the harbour area of our town. Normally, I would not go there by night at all, but I was on call as a doctor and I was persuaded to go to an exact address there: one of my friends was reportedly there and had asked me to come. That is how I arrived at 24, Ocean Street. Quite a lot of cars and people had arrived before me but, it seemed, not associated with any personal danger: the street was blocked by police cars. Could something have happened to my friend? I pressed ahead, explaining that "I am a doctor!" as if one might be needed. Before reaching the apartment where there was a lot of excitement, I was kept back by a senior police officer: "What did you say that your name was?" I responded openly. "That's him! So you returned to pick up something you had lost?" I denied but was nevertheless arrested, suspected of having murdered a person I had never heard of in a place where I had never been.

There was no way of avoiding an attorney now, even if I had wanted to. The one who was appointed to me - certainly not any from the videomixer-case - was very sympathetic to my case, very understanding and really made the impression as if he was going to fight my case. I soon learned that the sole reason for suspecting me was that before my arrival, my membership card from the sports club had been found, and then I was even appearing at this place, which was certainly not typical for me. No relationship between the victim and me could be established and thus no motive found, but this was found to be of minor importance. The gun with which the man had been killed was presented at court; unfortunately, it had been cleaned of fingerprints, a matter which again was held against me. Probably, my anonymous enemies had simply waited for a murder to occur before deciding to make use of my identification and to get me there with a telephone call. The rest transpired automatically. I was sentenced to death for a crime which I had not committed. I tried to appeal this verdict - thereby getting the impression that such appeals cases added to the lawyer's income more than they did to justice; at least the result was identical. What now followed was an unprecedented attempt to speed up my execution, by then a public entertainment in Lawainia. It was a very close race. Only coincidences made it possible for these lines to appear for you to read them: the real murderer was arrested and admitted to this crime while confessing a lot of similar ones; and a friend of mine - I still have friends, it seems - demanded that my execution be stopped because I was obviously innocent. The first precondition alone had not sufficed.

Although charging everybody else for irresponsible behaviour, neither lawyers nor judges were ever associated with any responsibility themselves when erroneous verdicts resulted, whether economical ones, or these resulting in imprisonment or even the loss of life. Here in Lawainia, it seems that there is a strong difference between justice and the law; while lawyers mostly seem to be occupied with increasing their own wealth, their strong presence in our government prevents any changes from occurring.

John Schou, August 1999
From "The Tunnel and the Cave"
Edited by Mrs. Barbara Hauss

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