Leonard Sedden, Dying for an Ethics Hero—Or a Caring Human Being

In Philadelphia, a Metro Bus driver called her supervisors…

Driver: I have a passenger that’s not responding to me…It looks as though he had peed on himself and he had drooled a lot. I can’t get any actual response.

Control: Just come on down the street, the supervisor will pick you up on the line and give you some assistance.

Driver: OK, so just leave him on the bus and pickup passengers when I leave on 4:18?

Control: That’s correct. I don’t want to delay service. The supervisor will assist you on the line so we don’t delay service for the passengers.

A bit later, the Driver called in again…

Control: Did you get assistance yet?

Driver: [A supervisor] checked the passenger. He said it appears the passenger is breathing but he wants me to just go ahead and take him down to Frankford Terminal and have the police take him off the vehicle.

Finally, the resolution:

Control: I’m trying to make sure you got help, did the police come and assist you?

Driver: Yes, SEPTA police here, he believes that the passenger is dead…

Control: Did you say dead?!?

Driver: Uh, yes, he said he believes that the passenger is dead.

Yup, he was dead all right, of heart failure.  The bus driver, guided by her supervisors, got the collapsed and unresponsive man medical assistance a full 40 minutes after the driver reported that he was in distress. “It just boggles me that I was riding around and he was deceased and other passengers were getting on,” said Natika Manfra, who was driving the bus. “Could I have done anything to save him?”

Yes, she could have. She could have told her supervisors to go to Hell, and driven the man to get medical attention. Obviously her management was giving her terrible, irresponsible, inhuman and cruel commands. They were placing her in a difficult position, but the principle is clear: “I was just following orders” does not excuse inaction when human life is at stake. News reports says she is outraged. If she rushed the man to a hospital and then was fired for trying to save his life, then she could be outraged. All she should be now is ashamed.

What the bus driver failed to do—act, defy orders and try to save the man’s life, is difficult, stressful, and frightening, and also imperative. What her supervisors did—by their own words, refuse to assist a human being in distress so that they wouldn’t have to “delay service”—cannot be condemned in strong enough terms. They now say that they assumed it was a drunk, and that drunks pass out on the buses frequently. Obviously the bus driver, who was there, thought it was more serious than that. If a well-dressed man in a suit had been exhibiting the same symptoms, would their response have been the same? Who knows? Maybe they are not callous, unfeeling bigots, but just callous and unfeeling.

What the dead man, Leonard Sedden, 68, needed to stay alive was a hero, or just an ethical human being. Apparently, they missed the bus.

5 thoughts on “Leonard Sedden, Dying for an Ethics Hero—Or a Caring Human Being

  1. The critical factor that is not mentioned is the bus driver’s assessment of the seriousness of Mr. Sedden’s medical condition. If she thought his life was in danger and yet still followed orders, she must bear the ethical weight of her decision. However, if she was deferring to her superiors’ assessment of the risk to the passenger’s well-being because they had more experience than she did handling this sort of situation, based on her description, then she is not morally culpable.

    • Sure it was mentioned: the bus driver’s comments afterwards make it clear that she disagreed with her superiors. She was there, they weren’t, and she called to report a passenger in peril. It is also clear their concern was staying on schedule. If she’s there, and they aren’t, they don’t have standing to second-guess her judgment.

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