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Opinion: Sentence begs question of the value of human life

Please turn to the person next to you and ask if they find the following scenario shocking. A woman is driving under the influence of alcohol after a long day of work. She is also under the influence of three prescription drugs, all designed to combat anxiety and depression. The pills come with the caution that they should not be taken while consuming alcohol. The pills heighten the effects of alcohol.
The woman kills a man on a bicycle.
She is charged with driving under the influence and, if convicted, could be out of prison in less than two years after paying a $750 fine. It’s all in black and white as reported by a local paper: concrete numbers that tell us the value of a human life.
The newspaper article reported that the cyclist was a well-known local physician of 60 years. The driver was a young woman married to a local veteran police officer. You can deduce what you want of the specific sentence that could be handed down by the court if she is found guilty.
I like to think it shouldn’t matter who is who when someone dies on a bike ride at the hands of someone who is legally intoxicated and taking three prescription medications that affect neurological functioning. What does matter is how does a legal system allow this to happen? How have we come to this point in human history when human life has so little meaning? What happened to “sua sponte,” a phrase our ancestors celebrated centuries ago? What happened to our American forefathers extolling the importance of taking responsibility for our culpability?
Who should we blame for such a tragic crime? Should we blame a physician who prescribes three medications to be taken at the same time for the same condition? Should we blame the pharmaceutical companies for marketing addictive drugs designed to treat anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies that can actually cause the symptoms they are designed to ameliorate?
Should we blame a work environment that is so stressful that an employee needs to take three medications and drink alcohol on the way home to cope with job expectations? Should we blame the legal system, which, perhaps, just perhaps, practices favoritism? Should we blame each other and ourselves for participating in these systems that create tragic injustice?
Instead of blaming I suggest we stop acting like a people who have been shocked into complacency after watching centuries of human atrocity, now at a scale that may be unprecedented in human history.
I suggest that we shock ourselves out of complacency and entropy into compassion and engagement. Please turn to the person next to you, give them a hug and think about how you can engage in the world to nurture justice and mercy. Maybe it all comes down to just reaching for each other when someone kills, someone dies, some people are left to mourn the loss and some people are left to live with the guilt.
Sally Borden
Middlebury

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