There is little more that can be written about the horrific death of Yueyue, the two-year-old girl who, after being hit by a truck, was ignored by numerous passers-by, and the stain it has placed on the vision China has of itself. Perhaps this tragedy could likely have happened in many other countries, but the one positive China has drawn from it is the opportunity to look at its society and the need to develop legal protection for "Good Samaritans," referring to those who help or save people in danger.
Although there are many good examples of such selflessness, too often rapacious individuals are able to get the courts on their side and the would-be helpers end up being fined.
The most famous such case came in 2006 when Peng Yu, a young man in Nanjing, helped up an old woman who had fallen off the bus and took her to hospital. Upon her release, the woman and her family sued Peng, resulting in the court finding him guilty and ordering him to pay 40 percent of the legal costs, on the grounds that "according to common sense," Peng might well have knocked the woman over.
Such cases alone are black marks on the country's judicial record but they are worsened by the total absence of any resources to help those who offer help themselves.
Now the debate about a law to protect prospective Samaritans has been revived. When seeking for a legal precedent, the systems in two countries, the US and France, come to mind. In the US, the Good Samaritan law varies widely from state to state. However, its general basis is that anybody aiding a person in danger, without having caused the danger, is thereby immune to any prosecution arising from that rescue.
Such a law would have protected Peng Yu if he could have proven that he did not cause the woman's fall. Whilst there are restrictions on this law, such as the rescuer needing to obtain the person in danger's consent to the help unless the person is unconscious, this has generally worked well in the US. This has created a system whereby a Good Samaritan is not rewarded for their action, but is protected from any unjust retribution as has happened in China.
France takes a markedly different approach. The French law rests on the concept of punishing someone who does not come to the aid of a person in danger, in essence a Bad Samaritan law. It's a rare case where the law recognizes an obligation to assist, forcing anyone in the position to save someone without putting themselves in peril to do so. Anyone found to be in breach in this law is liable to criminal prosecution and faces five years in jail as well as a fine of 75,000 euros (660,000 yuan).
On paper, the French law sounds much harsher and would doubtlessly be rejected in the fiercely individualistic US. However, where the US Good Samaritan law has caused much debate and is outright rejected in many jurisdictions, the French version has become a popular and key part of the country's legal code. When it was first drafted, there were public concerns, but over the years, the obligation to help has become second nature to the French public.
Now, which of these would be most applicable to China? Views on Weibo seem divided, with many favoring legal protection for people like Peng Yu while others clamor for punishment to be meted out to the drivers that killed Yueyue and the passers-by who left her for dead. It seems that a mixture of the two would be best. Crucially, there is little point in passing an either kind of law if the government cannot enforce it.
It is important that anybody working in China feels safe in helping their fellow man while knowing that leaving someone to die may catch up with them. The obstacles are large. A falsely-accused Good Samaritan may have difficulty in clearing their name. Most worryingly, no law may prevent a truck driver, earning a pittance, from fleeing the scene of a hit-and-run when he faces the prospect of staggering fines if he stops to help.
The author is an editor with Global Times. email@example.com