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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Did They Act Immorally?

The situation (which I just saw on a TV show): two elderly women have their nephew move in with them. He terrifies them, bullies them, and turns them into his servants... or slaves, I guess, since he doesn't pay them.

Then, one day, he is hit by a car. He doesn't want official attention drawn to what happened (for reasons irrelevant to our discussion), so when he arrives home, he asks his aunts not to call a doctor. He goes up to bed. One of his aunts tends to him, and sees he is very seriously injured. She suspects, in fact, that without medical attention he will die in his sleep. But she does nothing; in the morning he is, indeed, dead.

Are the sisters morally culpable for not calling a doctor? Does the fact he has abused their hospitality weigh for or against the sisters? Does the fact the he explicitly declined help aid their case? Should they have taken into account the fact that he might be delirious, and not in the right mind to make a sound decision on needing a doctor?

12 comments:

  1. No. These women have been completely deprived of any agency by their nephew, they put alot more weight on his wishes than is warranted, and so they listened to him and did as he asked. That they checked on him at all is enough to make me doubt whether they even hated him or wished him ill. From a standard of reasonable doubt, the case against them is weak.

    Now, the question is how things went when they checked on him. It is at that point that I can imagine malicious intent coming into their minds, but proving mens rea, or even that they saw something that should have made them overrule his instructions, is dubious.

    They definitely should have considered his mental state, but these are cowed old women dominated by their nephew. Their only concern is what he'll do when he wakes up in the hospital.

    This all assumes your story on the conditions they were living in did not come from the defense lawyer.

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    1. "It is at that point that I can imagine malicious intent coming into their minds, but proving mens rea..."

      In the episode, these women quite explicitly admitted that they suspected he would die, and that then "things could go back to the way they had been."

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    2. Then they're toast, and should be. Didn't realize this was fiction.

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  2. Well, it was a fictional TV show, and we should assume the screenwriter and director were depicting the situation "honestly" -- this was not part of a continuing storyline where next week we will find out they poisoned him.

    And there was no question of *legal* culpability. But the women themselves were shown expressing guilty feelings. What I'm wondering is, should they feel guilty?

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  3. I'm voting yes. His crime against them was surely not worthy of death. As you say, he was not obviously capable of sound judgement, and might not have been aware of the danger he was in. Even had he clearly expressed the wish to die, it is not obvious it would have been right to allow him this.

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    1. Yes, I'm inclined to think his slights against the sisters count against them here. What they *should* have done was kick him out of their house. But, because they were too timid to do so, they instead let him die. I think if he had been living next door, they would have saved him.

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    2. It should have been obvious to the nephew that people who are too timid to defend themselves from bad treatment, cannot be counted on if you need help in bad times.

      So, yes it was wrong for them not to fetch a doctor, but as you said it was already wrong of them not to kick him out of the house in the first place.

      It is rather ironic that the very same weakness the nephew abused finally killed him. So while I think it was morally wrong not to fetch the doctor, I don’t pity that nephew. In a sense he played with fire..

      Is that inconsistant?

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    3. Skylien, that's pretty much how I saw it. I blogged this because the screenwriter did a really good job of setting the viewer up to feel conflicted... as I certainly did. The nephew was revolting -- but does being revolting deserve the death penalty? The aunts just wanted their nice, quite house back -- but only because they were too weak to act directly to achieve that did they let him die.

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    4. Isn’t this quite similar to the situation we have seen all too often in action movies; at the end after the final fight between the hero and the villain, when the villain suddenly by sheer coincidence or his own fault is in a dire situation which will kill him if the hero doesn't rescue him?

      Of course the big difference is that while the aunts are timid, the hero is supposed to have a strong character, which finally is tested at this point in the movie. Yet everybody hopes the villain will die, but it would be best if the villain kills himself or it's by coincidence or at least in clear self defense.

      The funny thing is that the hero always has some time to think about it and yet I never saw the hero thinking for even a fraction of a second too long about it. He always does the right thing at the right moment.

      The not so funny thing is that is nothing you could say about Obama and his secret panel. They think very long and kill. Even accepting “collateral damage”..

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    5. Action movies: yes, it does seem similar.

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  4. To answer the question, Gene, I think you need to tell us whether the nephew was a legal US resident.

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    1. Bob, you friggin' crack me up!

      In any case, the show was set in the UK. So there.

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