Self-Destruction Ethics Alarms: A Woman’s Unethical Quest For Fat

Yesterday, the world heard about Donna Simpson, a New Jersey woman who weighs in at about 500 pounds. She sasy she wants to be the fattest woman alive, and is managing her diet and exercise to achieve that lofty goal. Of course, all those Twinkies and pork rinds cost a lot of money—her weekly grocery bill averages more than $800—so she earns extra cash by putting herself on Gluttoncam, or whatever she calls it, where freakophiles can watch her gorge herself online for a reasonable fee. Her partner, the news reports say, is completely supportive. “I think he’d like it if I was bigger,” giggles Donna. “He’s a real belly man and completely supports me.”


Obviously this situation is unusual…at least, I hope it is. Still, it raises many difficult ethics questions, some with broad implications:

  • We are told that it is cruel, greedy and heartless for insurance companies to withhold coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” and should be compelled to insure everyone without regard to special risks. Does this apply to Donna Simpson?
  • Should a person who is intentionally making themselves unhealthy have a right to receive full health insurance at the same price as everyone else?
  • Is it fair for any portion of my taxes, or yours, to have to pay for this woman’s self-destructive obsession?
  • Should there be a point of irresponsibility where an individual forfeits the right to be part of shared health care expenses?
  • If your answer to that is “yes,” where do we draw the line? A woman trying to become morbidly obese is an easy call, but what about someone who takes Ecstasy, or who smokes three packs a day, or who speeds habitually, or who operates heavy machinery while half-awake? How about a woman who insists on being unhealthily thin, or a runner who runs so much that knee damage is inevitable?
  • If your answer is “no,” how is that fair to the people who are responsible and take care of their health? How exactly will the new health care reforms encourage healthier lifestyles, as we are being told, if there are no consequences of reckless or self-destructive behavior?
  • Donna has a child, yet is spending all her money on food while making it very likely that she won’t be able to care for her daughter. Does she have that right? Isn’t this passive child abuse? Should New Jersey declare her an unfit mother?
  • Should the law and society be able to force an individual to cease self-destructive conduct when others will be harmed by it, even if the harm is only financial? Should a judge put Donna on a forced diet?
  • How are the people who pay to watch her stuff herself distinguishable from a crowd shouting “Jump!” to a man threatening suicide on a building ledge? Are they worse? After all, they are actively assisting Donna in slow-motion suicide, not merely cheering her on.
  • Should websites that promote and facilitate suicide be banned?
  • In the thriller “Untraceable,” a maniac sets up a website on which his captive  victims are slowly killed by methods triggered and accelerated by visitors logging on to the site. Is it ethical to log on to such a site? Should it be illegal?
  • Is Donna’s website ethically distinguishable from the murder site in “Untraceable”?
  • Is a “supportive” spouse or partner in a situation like this assisting a suicide? Can his conduct be justified? Is his ethical culpability different if he is trying to promote Donna’s death by Slim Jim?
  • Finally, is it ethical journalism to give publicity to a woman who is mutilating and destroying herself, as well as neglecting her child, specifically in order to receive publicity? If she wouldn’t try to be the Fattest Woman on Earth if she knew nobody would know or care, does the media have any ethical obligation to ignore the story? If the only value of a story to readers is titillation and entertainment, can the media still argue that it has a duty to report it no matter what negative consequences result?

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Self-Destruction Ethics Alarms: A Woman’s Unethical Quest For Fat

  1. What do I think? I pretty much always come down on the side of personal freedom. So she has every right to do whatever she wants with her own lifespan. Anything else is a slippery slope towards banning ANYTHING that might be remotely dangerous or unhealthy. And maybe I *like* trans-fats….

    That said, this is why I also pretty much always come down on the side of everyone paying for their own health care through private insurance. Hers, because of what she does, will probably be more expensive than mine. That’s okay. It’s also okay if mine would go up if I, for instance, start smoking. But I should have the choice to smoke or not (I don’t, BTW).

    Being an American means that we all have the right to be wrong.

    On the subject of Donna herself, it’s a sad commentary on the value our society puts on fame that someone would do THIS just so that I know her name.


  2. Is freedom the enemy of ethics, and vice-versa? That sounds like the beginning of a senior thesis to me.

    I’m reminded of Austin Powers. (Interesting where ideas come from, but if you are open to new ideas, you’ll find them everywhere.) Towards the end of the first movie, we have this interchange:

    No, man, what we swingers were
    rebelling against were uptight squares
    like you, whose bag was money and
    world domination. We were innocent,
    man. If we’d known the consequences
    of our sexual liberation, we would
    have done things differently, but
    the spirit would have remained the
    same. It’s freedom, man.

    DR. EVIL
    Your freedom has cause more pain and
    suffering in the world than any plan
    I ever dreamed of. Face it, freedom failed.

    That’s why right now is a very groovy
    time, man. We still have freedom,
    but we also have responsibility.

    DR. EVIL
    Really, there’s nothing more pathetic
    than an aging hipster.

    I’m not trying to draw the parallel to Donna’s weight gain, but to “information”. The Internet really does represent the “Information Liberation” that correlates to Austin’s “Sexual Liberation”.

    What we need now is responsibility, and we are slowly getting that with every “dufus” that posts on Facebook one night, and gets fired the next day. Or the journalist who posts an article but gets burned by facts that don’t line up.

    In my opinion, if societal responsibility isn’t working fast enough to improve the inherent problems of freedom, governments exercise their right to regulate. When regulation isn’t enough, laws are enacted on the citizen to address specific problems. To avoid big government, it is required of the public to press for responsibility and accountability.

    In this case, I am of the opinion, that if the public doesn’t bully Donna into a responsible plan of action, it will be up to the government to regulate the advertising industry to not support self-destructive or suicidal causes. The government would then regulate the charity donation industry to ensure that they are not enabling donations to suicidal causes. If that’s not enough, (and if government really cares that much about one individual, but for our purposes, we’ll assume the problem is pervasive and the subject is used as an example) government will enact laws stripping freedoms from the individual.

    That’s a lot of work for government. Did anyone really wonder where their tax dollars were being spent? My hypothesis is this: When the public is strong in the areas of responsibility, the government is more effective.

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