Injustice (Lat. in, privative, and jus, right), in the large sense, is a contradiction in any way of the virtue of justice. Here, however, it is taken to mean the violation of another’s strict right against his reasonable will, and the value of the word right is determined to be the moral power of having or doing or exacting something in support or furtherance of one’s own advantage. The goods whose acquisition or preservation is contemplated as the object of right belong to different categories. There are those which are bound up with the person, whether there is question of body or soul, such as life and limb, liberty, etc., as likewise that which is the product of one’s deserts, such as good name; and there are those things which are extrinsic to the individual, such as property of whatever sort. The injury perpetrated by a trespass on a man’s right in the first instance is said to be personal, in the second real. All injury, like every kind of moral delinquency, is either formal or material according as it is culpable or not. It is customary also to distinguish between that species of injurious action or attitude which involves loss to the one whose right is outraged, such as theft, and another which carries with it no such damage, such as an insult which has had no witnesses. The important thing is that in every kind of injury such as we are considering, the offense is against commutative justice. That is, it is against the virtue which, taking for granted the clear distinction of rights as between man and man, demands that those rights be conserved and respected even to the point of arithmetical equality. Consequently, whenever the equilibrium has been wrongfully upset, it is not enough to atone for the misdeed by repentance or interior change of heart. There is an unabatable claim of justice that the wronged one be put back in possession of his own. Otherwise the injury, despite all protestations of sorrow on the part of the offender, continues. Hence, for example, there must be apology for contumely, retraction for calumny, compensation for hurt to life and limb, restitution for theft, etc. No one therefore can receive absolution for the sin of injustice except in so far as he has a serious resolution to rehabilitate as soon as he can and in such measure as is possible the one whose right he has contemned.
It is an axiom among moralists that “scienti et volenti non fit injuria”, i.e., no injury is offered to one who knowing what is done consents to it. In other words, there are rights which a man may forego, and when he does so, he cannot complain that he has been deprived of them. Some limitations, however, are necessary to prevent the abuse of a principle which is sufficiently obvious. First of all a man must really know, that is, he must not be the victim of a purely subjective persuasion, which is in fact false and which is the reason of his renunciation. Secondly, the consent which he gives must not be forced, such as might be yielded at the point of a pistol, or such as might be elicited under pressure of extreme necessity taken advantage of by another. Lastly, the right must be such as can be given up. There are some rights which as a result of either the natural or the positive law cannot be surrendered. Thus a husband cannot by his antecedent willingness legitimize the adultery of his wife. His right is inalienable. So also one could not accede to the request of a person who would not only agree to be killed, but would plead for death as a means of release from suffering.
The right which a man has to life cannot be renounced, particularly if it be remembered that he has no direct dominion over it. This ownership resides with God alone. Hence the infliction of death by a private person, even in response to the entreaties of a sufferer to be put out of misery, would always be murder.
JOSEPH F. DELANEY