REVIEWS

Publication Date01 July 1962
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1962.tb00692.x
REVIEWS
LIFE,
DEATH
AND
THE
LAW.
By
NORMAN
ST.
JOHN-bVA8.
[London:
Eyre
&
Spottiswde.
1961.
875
pp. (with index).
85s.
net.]
UNDER
this
somewhat bizarre title Dr.
St.
John-Stevas puts before the
public
a
number of essays upon such subjects
as
birth control, artificial
insemination (human of course), sterilisation (ditto), homosexuality,
euthanasia and suicide.
The author needs no introduction
to
readers of
this
review
to
which he
has been
a
valued contributor for
a
number of years. These essays are
marked by
the
lucidity of style, accuracy of scholarship and freshness of
thought to which we have been accustomed, and one is glad of
the
opportunity
to study his work on
the
rather more ambitious scale which these essays
enable him to develop.
To
return
to
the
title
for
a
moment it seems to me unfortunate
that
something more adequately descriptive was not devised; for “Life, Death
and the Law” might repel many who
are
not attracted by law, but who
would undoubtedly be interested in the discussions developed in this
book.
While lawyers purchasing it may well feel
that
they have been misled, for
the book
is
much more concerned with moral nnd social than with
legal
problems, and in
at
least one of the topics discussed, that of birth control,
the legal aspect
is
pretty well non-existent, in spite of the author’s rather
artificial praying in
the
aid of such cases
as
Eyde
v.
Eyds
and
Bazter
v.
Baxter,
though no doubt it could
be
said that
the
possibility of legislation
banning the sale of contraceptives,
a
subject discussed In this
book,
dour
introduce
a
legal element. Nevertheless they would be well advised not to
throw it aside for it contains much that should be of interest to every
lawyer.
The author would probably justify his inclusion of law in his title
oh
the
grounds first that law plays,
or
has played
in
the past, an important
role
in the handling
of
these social problems, and secondly that, in the general
atmosphere of his discussion, the possibility, and usually, he would add,
undesirability, of legal intervention
is
a
matter of high public interest, and
moreover he might add that in the U.S.A. many legislative experiments
which are very germane to the subject have taken place. Indeed it is one
of the values of this book that the American experience is fully considered.
Much of the preparatory work was apparently done in that country, and
nine out of the fourteen appendices which deal with legislation,
or
proposals
for legislation,
or
other germane topics, relate in substance to United States
experience. The climate
of
opinion in
a
number of the State legislntures
in the
U.S.A.
is favourable to attempts to handle social problems, including
those with
a
moral content, by empirical legislative methods,
so
that the
experience there
is
much fuller, richer, and, it must be confessed, from
time
to
time more disappointing than
it
is
here. Nevertheless, and accepting
all this,
I
still feel that some of those who purchase this book expecting to
get
a
good deal of law for their money may feel that they have been misled
by the title.
It
is
significant that the introductory chapter is entitled “law and
morals.” Although this does underline the views expressed on this subject
by the earlier and most influential Roman Catholic philosophers, particularly
St.
Augustine and
St.
Thomas Aquinas-indeed the author seems to regard
himself as
a
Thomist-it
is
in no sense
a
r6chauff6, still
less
a
sunimarp,
of the numerous writings on law and morals which have appeared down
487
488
THE
MODERN
LAW
REVIEW
VOL
!26
the ages. Although
Dr.
St.
John-Stevas takes up a strong nntural law
position he nevertheless
is
content to concentrate rather on the conteniporary
problem
as
seen through the eyes
of
Roman Catholic and Protestant legis-
lators, using the expression natural law in
a
non-technical sense to cover
pronouncements by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and other authoritative
persons, and writers. The opinion expressed by the Wolfenden Committee
on
crime
and
sin provides
a
useful text for
a
discussion of the problem of
“inarklng out
the
frontier between law and morals,” and this the author
carries on
at
a
high level, and in
a
most intcresting way.
He
provides
a
useful and hiay critical appraisal of
Lord
Devlin’s lecture on the Enforcement
of
Morals.
He
seems
to
me
however
to
have misunderstood the argument of
that distinguished lawyer
so
that his criticism
is
not altogether effective. How-
ever he brings into his discussion some highly original reflections by the
American Jesuit
J.
Courtney Murray, and mentions the views of other Ameri-
can writers whose work deserves to be better known in this country.
Some
of
the reflections of
Dr.
St.
John-Stevas on this matter are worthy
of careful attention. To give but one example, he says “Whether behaviour,
private
or
public, strikes
at
the common
good
80
gravely that
it
endangers
the
fabric of society and
BO
should
be
suppressed
by
law,
is
a
question of
fact, which can only be answered after full consideration of the conditions
prevailing
in
a
given society, including the rights enjoyed by
the
individual,
and the division of jurisdiction between Church and State”
(see
p.
39).
He concludes this paragraph by stating that
political prudence, not
jurisprudential theory, must at this stage, be the guide” which implies
clearly enough that religious dogma
is
not
to
be the guide either
:
an opinion
of
considerable pertinence which, coming from
a
Roman Catholic, must have
called for some courage.’
In
spite
of
the
ability and interest of this chapter and
the
undoubted
liberalism of much of
its
Wig
I
found the argument far from convincing:
the truth
of
course is that
the
range of the author’s thought
is
fettered by
his religious beliefs which warp his historical understanding of the develop-
ment of morals
in
Europe, and,
to
a
degree, inhibit his sympathy with the
empirical progress which
is
in fact
so
characteristic of the present aple.*
Each of the
six
subjects chosen
for
detailed discussion is hnndled in
a
highly competent manner and with
a
wealth of scholarship which never
becomes burdensome to the reader. Moreover, although the author‘s own
opinions
on these subjects have been very largely moulded by his deeply
felt
religious
beliefs
he
succeeds
in
presenting the views of his opponents
whether Protestant
Christians
or
non-believers
in
a
fair
and
impartial
manner.
Indeed
I
am not aware of any volume in which
a
clearer
or
better
documented
description and discussion
of
these
topics,
me
of which
are
among the most vital of the present age,
is
provided. Moreover,
as
I
have
indicated earlier, there
is
a
continuous, and most valuable,
use,
in parallel,
of the analogous American material. Here and
there
we
have statements of fact and mixed fact and opinion which
are
I
think misleading,’ and in one case, that of euthanasia, the material
is
not
1
I
cannot resist
to
mention that
at
thin
int
I
looked back
to
the
be
inning
of the volume
to
see
whether it containe80the eccleriestical
permit
nihifobstat
and wan not
su
rimd
to
find that it does not.
2
Curiously
enoug?
in
the
chspter
on
homosexuality, which is em
liberal in outlook, there is What appeare to be
a
complete departur!?%%:
position taken
up
in the first chapter
for
st
p.
210
the euthor
Christian
moral ideas
msy
trenscend sociological and scientific fact, but they are not
independent
of
auch data,,and moral ideas
m:y
well have to be modified to
bring them into relation with new discoverifp.
suicide rates in Catholic countries
tend
to
be lower then in Protestant countries, measuring the higher degree
I
do not propose
to
comment in detail on these chapters.
3
c.g.,
the rather typical statement at p.
264,

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