Equality, Justice and Equity - World Bioethics Day 2017 Theme Essay Competition - Second Position

Equilibrium is the fundamental law of nature. Irrespective of the size and operating mechanism of any particular system of consideration, it is amazing to notice that it is in or at least it tries to be in equilibrium. In accordance with this simple rule, the stars stay at their specified place within a galaxy, planets stay on their orbits, the population of wild animals in an environment free from human interference remains nearly constant, the rivers flow, days and night occur, and the gases move from their higher concentration zones to those with their lower concentration,  which is fundamental for our survival as it is well known now that it is that simple process of diffusion of gases in alveoli which makes our life possible. Even within the cells and across them, the molecules diffuse from higher to lower concentration zones. From the smallest possible microcosm to the unimaginably vast universe, equilibrium tends to occur. As human beings realized, during the course of evolution, that equality is the ultimate state of stability, the concept of human rights, democracy, equality, and justice have emerged.

Equality, Justice and Equity, all these seemingly alike terms perplex almost everyone the first time they hear it. “I think they are similar, don’t they mean the same?”, even the purported pundits of our society gave this answer to me when they were asked about the subtle difference between these terms. Though they all are directed towards creating a better society and environment to live for everyone, ethical values, circumstances, and relativity may make these things a bit confusing, a bit paradoxical, and in some cases completely unreasonable.

Equality is the concept of providing the equal opportunity to everyone or distributing the available resources to each individual equally, irrespective of the backgrounds, needs, or any other special circumstances. From the time of the 14th-century English hero, Robin Hood, who supposedly used to steal from the rich and distribute to the poor, to modern-day communism, the concept of equality is implemented in various ways. However, equality doesn't always ensure justice and equity. Equality is like the blindfolded lady that is depicted in the symbol of justice. That blindfold has to be taken off and judgment should be done by seeing perspicaciously through the eyes of wisdom and compassion. Then only the justice is done and a state of equity is attained.

Let's make this more intelligible with some real-life situations. Implementing a rule that everyone should wait for their turns in a queue in a bill counter is equality. No matter whether someone is rich or poor, strong or weak, black or white, has to wait for their turns in a queue. This system for equality sounds perfect and desirable for each and every aspect of life. But, will it be justifiable to make a handicapped person who had already struggled so much just to reach the place wait for long hours in a queue along with other persons? Will it be a justice to make a pregnant lady in her third trimester of pregnancy wait in the queue? Who should be given more priority, the pregnant lady or the handicapped person? Now, there we seem to have reached an impasse of an ethical dilemma. The perfect system of equality suddenly seemed like a system where there is no place for compassion and empathy. Equality should always be tested for its accordance with justice. Equity is only attained when justice is considered for along with equality.

Similarly, in a classroom, a teacher should focus and give his attention differently to different students based on their individual needs. If on the premise of providing equality, the teacher gives equal focus to all students, the slightly slow learning student might never catch up with the speed of the class and the fast learning fellow may get bored. Also, what happens if every patient in the emergency unit of a hospital was given equal attention, time and resources? This will be a terrible mistake because it seems that we have practiced equality but the life of a critically injured patient may not be saved because unnecessary time and resources were wasted for a patient whose state was not as critical.

This insight into equality, justice and equity has to be implemented into every aspect of our lives be it social, economic or political. The act of budget planning and distribution, providing relief and compensation for the calamity struck population, providing healthcare facilities in a hospital, providing seats for the needy in public vehicles, providing reservation quotas for admission in a college or for a job, etc. all should have a consideration for justice whenever practicing equality. All the individuals should be well aware of the nuance between equality and equity and should be empathetic to incorporate in their own lives. Then only, we can make the society, the country and the world we live, a place where there is equality, justice and equity.

     -  Raman Dhungel
        BDS 2014