Sometimes, stupidity is a capital offense

The laws of Nature are much, much harsher than the laws of Man. What is often considered not a crime, or a minor one at best, will sometimes bring about the death penalty. And there’s no court of appeals from Fate.

This morning, I spotted two such cases in the news. In one, the parents of a teenager who committed suicide are suing the doctor and hospital who failed to save him.

The boy, depressed about a romantic breakup and other stresses, took about 300 aspirin. Half an hour later, he went to the school nurse and complained about a stomachache, and three hours later told her just why he had that stomachache.

The nurse immediately sent him to the local hospital, which tried to save him. When it became apparent that he was getting worse and worse, they sent him by helicopter to the finest hospital in New Hampshire, the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. But it was to no avail, and he died.

The second story is of a woman, Margaret Peno, who was killed in a car accident. She was riding in her own car, being driven by her boyfriend, Felix Arroyo. Mr. Arroyo had several drunk-driving convictions on his record, and had lost his driving and vehicle-registrations suspended years ago. Nonetheless, Ms. Peno let him drive her in her car. He went off the road, hit a tree, and she was killed.

Ms. Peno’s parents are understandably upset, but they’re taking out their anger and grief on the wrong source. They say that their daughter might have been saved had the state’s law requiring convicted drunk drivers to have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicles. With that device, a car can not be started until the driver passes a breathalyzer test on a meter in the car.

That law has been in abeyance pending some bureaucratic details, but I don’t think it would have done any good. The car wasn’t Arroyo’s, but Peno’s. They had recently moved in together, and I don’t believe Ms. Peno would have been required to have the device on her own car. Ms. Peno died for the dumbest of reasons: she got into a car being driven by a drunk with a long history of drunk driving.

Now, while both the boy and Ms. Peno did dumb things, neither of them deserved to die for their offenses. It’s unfair. But they did, because that’s just the way the world works. You can’t always protect people from themselves.

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