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Four English men were stranded at sea in a life boat in the South Atlantic. That was about 1000 miles from land. They survived the sinking of their ship, and left with two cans of food only.
Dudley was the captain, Brooks & Stephens were sailors, n the last one was a cabin boy named Parker.
Only 17 yrs old he was, with no experience, thought the journey would build up his future career.
For 3 days, they were hoping to see any passing by ship, and they shared the canned food. Then they caught a turtle in their 4th day.
For the 8 subsequent days, they ate nothing.
Parker, the cabin boy drank some sea water out of thirst, n he got sick. He looked as if dying, or at least that was what they said.
Then out of despair, the three adults decided to kill the little boy, and eat him.
Dudley told the boy, made a prayer, & proceeded with the killing. The three of them fed on the boy’s body for four days.
Only on the 24th day, a ship appeared while they were having breakfast from the boy’s body. The three suvivors were accused of killing & eating the boy, to which they confessed, giving the excuse of that that was out of necessity.
Prof. Sandel asked us: “Suppose you were the judge. How would you rule? To simplify things, put aside the question of law and assume that you were asked to decide whether killing the cabin boy was morally permissible.
The strongest argument for the defense is that, given the dire circumstances, it was necessary to kill one person in order to save three. Had no one been killed and eaten, all four would likely have died. Parker, weakened and ill, was the logical candidate, since he would soon have died anyway. And unlike Dudley and Stephens, he had no dependents. His death deprived no one of support and left no grieving wife or children.
This argument is open to at least two objections: First, it can be asked whether the benefits of killing the cabin boy, taken as a whole, really did outweigh the costs. Even counting the number of lives saved and the happiness of the survivors and their families, allowing such a killing might have bad consequences for society as a whole—weakening the norm against murder, for example, or increasing people’s tendency to take the law into their own hands, or making it more difficult for captains to recruit cabin boys.
Second, even if, all things considered, the benefits do outweigh the costs, don’t we have a nagging sense that king and eating a defenseless cabin boy is wrong for reasons that go beyond the calculation of social costs and benefits? Isn’t it wrong to use a human being in this way—exploiting his vulnerability, taking his life without his consent even if doing so benefits others?
Some people who think it was wrong to kill the cabin boy might think that it was wrong because he didn’t consent. Would consent have made a moral difference? I.e. if the cabin boy had volunteered to sacrifice himself before D and S killed and ate him, would their act have been morally permissible?
Would the act of the cabin boy have been morally permissible, or even required, in such a case? I.e. is it permissible to let others kill you for the greater good, or does one have a duty preserve one’s life in such a situation (even if this means that others may die)?
Would consent have made a moral difference?
(One student) “I say yes. To me morality is at base is an accepted chosen belief or set of beliefs. If all parties involved agree, it would make it moral. That’s what makes religious views moral, law moral etc. People accept or decide it is right or good and continue that as accepted truth. The decisions and choices would still exist without the moral structure defining them.”
Is it permissible to let others kill you for the greater good, or does one have a duty preserve one’s life in such a situation (even if this means that others may die)?
(One student) “I think that If they want to sacrifice themselves, then go for it. If not…that’s okay too. I do not believe that we as humans have a duty to adhere absolutely to anything or anything in regard to some earthly or cosmic servitude. Morality and choice is referenced by goals or ideas. Whether any goal/idea is necessary in an absolute way to me is strictly opinion at this point. We don’t have enough data about ourselves much less the universe to make that call.”
I said “NO”! In this particular situation my view is that it was wrong to kill the cabin boy and if he had provided his consent I would disagree with him.