The Slippery Slope of Regulating Perceptions: Stand your Ground

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As I write this post, there are two, seemingly mutually exclusive, events rocking the nation and a third about to re-ignite; the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the battle over women’s health rights and the Supreme Court hearing on healthcare. I can’t help but thinking somewhere in the depths of these events there is an important point missing from the conversation.

On the one hand, a child was shot and killed as he walked home from the store. His killer remains free and protected by a poorly written law giving the shooter justification by self-defense. The killer believed  the child was a threat to him and that is all that was needed under the NRA supported Stand Your Ground Law, recently enacted in Florida and other states.

“The Stand Your Ground Law acts as an immunity to both criminal and civil liability once it is successfully raised at or before trial by somebody who has been accused of using deadly force.  See Peterson v. State, 983 So.2d 27, 29 (App. Ct. 2008) (holding that “[t]he [Florida] Legislature finds that it is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves and others.”).  Once a person raises this self-defense, “the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown by a preponderance of the evidence1 that the immunity attaches.”  Id.  Once the immunity attaches, it is then the prosecution’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt2 that the self-defense should not apply and that the person is guilty of the crime. Montijo v. State, 61 So.3d 424, 427 (App. Ct. 2011).” (The Urban Politico)

On the other hand, we have a series of laws, proposed and enacted, that give a physician the right to withhold medically relevant information to a woman, if that information can be perceived as leading to an abortion. Furthermore, should the withheld information cause injury or death to the mother or child, which is inevitable, additional laws have been enacted protecting the physician from medical malpractice in these ‘wrongful birth’ cases.

In both cases, the fundamental questions of guilt or innocence, and the personal responsibility for the life or death of another human being need not be based upon the actual facts of the case. Rather, these laws allow defendants protection based upon what they believe or feel about the circumstances. The aggressor has legal justification to act if he/she believes a threat exists or a possible future action might occur. Feelings and beliefs are trumping facts and reality. This is a slippery slope.

Perhaps, even more insipid is the underlying assumption that it is OK, even justified, to harm another individual, a woman, a child, if doing so accords with one’s religious, political, economic or racial beliefs; that those organizational ideologies somehow supersede the basic human ethic and make the harming or even killing of another individual, whether by force or by bad policy, OK so long as I/my group believe it to be OK.

Enter this week’s Supreme Court hearings on the individual mandate aspect of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Although unconnected on the surface, this too has the air of succession of belief over reality. Only in this case, the courts will decide the value of human life versus the value of economic gains or loss, under the auspices of state’s rights and individual liberties versus federal power. Admittedly, legal scholars frame this decision differently and the pundits on both sides of the aisle have their opinions, but at its core, this decision will determine whether basic access to health care is a right determined by the presupposition that human life has value above economic or political gains worth protecting at the federal level or whether it is simply a commodity in a very screwed up political economy.

The facts of this case are that the American healthcare system is inefficient, has poor outcomes compared to other industrialized nations and is way too expensive. To boot, 30 million Americans do not have the insurance that provides them access. Every one of these 30 million Americans will become ill at some point and many will die without access to care. Do we as a nation think this is acceptable? Apparently, many do. And the fact that many people are suffering or dying doesn’t appear to have bearing when compared against the perceived economic gains or losses of certain industries or the political power many seek to retain. What some feel they will lose, should the healthcare act survive, has primacy over reality and facts. Indeed, if facts and reality mattered, there would have been a host of other solutions to presented, that address the actual costs to a nation that doesn’t provide its citizens healthcare. As we all know, this was not the case.

Yes, there will be economic consequences if healthcare is provided to all (perhaps some positive). And maybe the individual mandate is not the solution, but the arguments before the courts are not about whether the mandate is the right solution. These hearings are about whether facts trump feelings and whether the value of human health trumps state power and the economic gain of a few. Let’s hope the collective wisdom and ethics of the Supreme Court is greater than what has been observed in local legislatures and courts across the nation.

Chandler Marrs MS, MA, PhD spent the last dozen years in women’s health research with a focus on steroid neuroendocrinology and mental health. She has published and presented several articles on her findings. As a graduate student, she founded and directed the UNLV Maternal Health Lab, mentoring dozens of students while directing clinical and Internet-based research. Post graduate, she continued at UNLV as an adjunct faculty member, teaching advanced undergraduate psychopharmacology and health psychology (stress endocrinology). Dr. Marrs received her BA in philosophy from the University of Redlands; MS in Clinical Psychology from California Lutheran University; and, MA and PhD in Experimental Psychology/ Neuroendocrinology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


  1. Your posting is heartfelt but it it has missing pieces. For one,our outcomes are better in the US for cancer and other serious illnesses (that is why wealthy people from other countries who are seriously ill come here for treatment). By some measures (birth weight, longevity) we do not compare well because we are heterogeneous and Americans make bad lifestyle choices (young fat 16 year old girls having babies). The health care bill was based on flawed premises and deceptions by both sides ( death panels and cost savings). We can do so much better if we agree on the problem, which you help define, agree on the facts, and then debate and agree on solutions.

    • Gary, I agree we can do much better, and the ACA is flawed at best, but when you consider we spend nearly twice our GDP on healthcare compared to other industrialized nations, we should be seeing outcomes that are commensurate with our rate of spending.

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