Mcfall V. Shimp: Right to Bodily Security

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Case Paper McFall v. Shimp

McFall v. Shimp: Right to Bodily Security

In 1978 a case was brought to civil court to challenge a well-established American idea of a person’s absolute right to bodily security. The Plaintiff, McFall, suffered from a rare bone marrow disease and was in need of a bone marrow transplant. The Defendant, Shimp, was a suitable potential donor who refused to undergo the procedure needed to harvest the bone marrow. When Shimp refused, McFall sought an injunction to compel him to do so based on an out dated statute of an old English court which the current court is derived from. The court was faced with the question of whether or not an individual is under legal compulsion to give aid to save another. Judge John Flaherty denied the Plaintiff’s request for an injunction based upon our society’s fundamental belief in a person’s right to bodily security. Judge Flaherty felt that compelling Shimp to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and principle upon which American society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual. For this case it was prudent to recognize when ethics and the law meet and when they repel. The court realized that ethically, this decision rested with the Defendant, and the refusal of the Defendant is morally indefensible. Regardless the court ruled in favor of the defended to protect an individuals rights and freedoms. When reviewing this case, there were several main issues that had to be considered before forming a decision. The first being if the ancient statute presented by the Plaintiff held precedent or not. In concurrence with Judge Flaherty, the statute of King Edward I does not currently hold precedent. Not only is this statute about seven hundred years old, it is also formed to serve the needs of a society that had different priorities. In the time period of King Edward I, the society had collectivist values in which an individual had a duty to serve society. The communitarian society firmly believed that all body parts belonged to those who needed them. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marx). Marx’s quotation expresses the mindset of the statute. An individual is expected to give as much as possible to live within one’s needs and only receive based upon their need. This is because there are no personal possessions, but rather everything is owned by the state and distributed based upon who is in need of it. According to this rational Shimp would have to undergo an uncomfortable procedure against his wishes because his life was not dependent on the bone marrow, while McFall was. Ethically, a collectivist society presents a system that is seen as morally just in ways. McFall’s life is reliant on the harvest of Shimp’s bone marrow, a procedure that shows no immediate or obvious threat to Shimp’s life aside from some discomfort. According to collectivism Shimp’s discomfort is worth the pain in order to preserve McFall’s life. However, the past collectivist view does not represent society today’s views. Present American society is based on an autonomistic philosophy and has an individualistic viewpoint that is the source of law. American society’s first priority is the rights of the individual, and that society and the government are in place to serve and protect the individual’s rights and freedoms. The impact of today’s societal pressures is evident in McFall v. Shimp. According to society today, Shimp is not required to and has the right not to donate the bone marrow needed for the transplant even if it is unethical. “In preserving such a society as we have it is bound to happen that great moral conflicts will arise and still appear harsh in a given instance” (Judge Flaherty). Although the Court viewed the Defendant’s decision as morally inexcusable, it could not compel the Defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body given the importance society had placed on an...
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