A2J & the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve

A2J is a short form for Access to Justice. It means a host of things, but primarily it stands for the ability of the average person to achieve a meaningful remedy from the justice system in a timely fashion. The term is not new, nor is the problem, as is discussed in the Canadian Bar Association magazine: A2J Evolution: Time for a redesign by Brandon Hastings.

In particular, I enjoyed this description which brings biology and evolution to the discussion:
Why, after 30 years of reports on the access to justice crisis, do we have no real fundamental change?
One answer to this question, posed by Nicole Aylwin, assistant director of the Winkler Institute and adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall, may be that the justice system has evolved similarly to our common law, leaving our justice-delivery mechanisms in a deceptively tangled Gordian Knot.
In the common law tradition, each new set of facts forces the law to grapple with human nature, incrementally refining its rules and in theory moving us closer to an ideal world. The trouble is that evolution is not always as tidy as we would like it to be. Over time, the sum of its almost imperceptibly small changes can mask more serious, fundamental deficiencies.
Consider, for example, the recurrent laryngeal nerve, whose circuitous route was popularized by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In our fish-like ancestors the nerve would have travelled in a straight line from the brain, past the aorta, to the larynx. As we evolved, we developed necks, and the nerve ended up “trapped” on the wrong side of the aorta, forced to travel an inefficient path from the brain, around the aorta, and back up to the larynx.
In each small evolutionary step, it didn’t make bio-economical sense for the nerve to “move” to the aorta’s other side – a small, if imperfect adjustment was always “good enough.” As heads evolved away from hearts, however, the inefficiency became more conspicuous. In giraffes, the same nerve travels 4.6 metres (from head, around the aorta, to the larynx) where a direct route would have been about 18 centimetres.
I remember studying the recurrent laryngeal nerve in the anatomy lab. I also remember thinking, "Why would it descend the neck, loop around the arch of the aorta and return upwards again? Oh well, I guess there's no point in complaining that it makes no sense - that's just how the body is." But of course, someone (Richard Dawkins in this case) thought it a question worth pursuing. Here is a video of him discussing it (also, a note for the squeamish that this contains some video of the neck of a giraffe being dissected):

I feel I would be remiss not to say that my anatomy professor at U of T, Dr. Ballyk, probably wouldn't approve of a scalpel being used to dissect a nerve (she's a big fan of blunt dissection).


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