Quite by accident, Scarlett is in imminent danger of losing life or limb. You know this, and can rescue her without any unreasonable cost, inconvenience, or danger to yourself. Yet you stand by idly, and she suffers accordingly. Assume that morally speaking, you failed to do your duty; you ought to have done your best to rescue her. Should there be a criminal law penalizing your omission?
Joel Feinberg imposes the following two constraints — which may be called “liberal” — on any answer to our question. First, if it is reasonable that there should be a criminal law requiring rescue, then whenever there is a morally wrong omission to rescue, there must be someone who is victim of that omission. There must be no victimless crimes. Secondly, all criminal law must protect individual moral rights. When law protects people who need to be rescued and when others can rescue them at no unreasonable inconvenience, cost, or danger, the imperilled people must have a moral right to be rescued. If so, what precisely is the moral right that comes into play? Who are the victims? Joel Feinberg offers answers to these questions, answers intended to support the view that it is indeed reasonable for there to be a criminal law penalizing omissions to rescue, where rescue would involve no unreasonable cost, inconvenience, or danger to the potential rescuer.