Commenter Marlene Cohn has some well-reasoned insight on the issue of a celebrity’s obligation to comply with a sick child’s wishes. Here is her comment on The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: an Ethics Drama:
“I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip just as much as anyone, and always find internet reactions to perceived celebrity slights to be fascinating. Having been on the internet far longer than the hoards willing to throw around the dreaded “c” word, I’ve been able to see a true shift in what people generally expect of others.
“So you have a situation where a celebrity did a relatively common thing and turned down a request from the Make a Wish Foundation. Ten or fifteen years ago, not only would nobody care or find anything unethical in this action, but nobody would have even known about it, as it was unpopular for haggard mothers caring for terribly ill children to write blogs and solicit PayPal donations. What would once have been considered unethical (compassion bullying as you put it) is now common place as everyone airs the most private aspects of their lives on the internet and every breath a celebrity makes is chronicled by the likes of TMZ, which seems more than willing to pay for any story or non-story. Now, we’re quick to personalize every story of a sick child and dehumanize those that wouldn’t. For good measure, there’s also some of the classic “haves vs the have-nots” thrown in to obfuscate our definitions of ethical behavior.
“Ina Garten has no ethical obligation to yield to pressure from MAW or the mother of this child or to offer a public explanation for her refusal, let alone any obligation to accept the invitation in the first place. You were right to make the distinction that once you HAVE to agree to meet a child, it ceases to be a wish and is nothing more than a demand, which none of us has a right to. It demeans the very nature of charity, which is always purest when freely given.
“I am curious as to your opinion on the mother’s PayPal account and her solicitations for donations. Given her hissy fit in the media, I’m not particularly inclined to be gracious towards her (that doesn’t mean I lack sympathy) and given the prevalence of sneaky internet behavior, it does make me wonder if her intent was to drive traffic to her blog.”
Note #1: My answer to Marlene’s last two queries: “I don’t much care for maudlin websites being used to guilt readers into contributions, but it’s not as if she’s deceiving anyone. I think it’s undignified and manipulative, but that’s the charity way, from Sally Struthers’ African waifs to Jason Alexander’s abused dogs. I’ll give it a utilitarian pass. But if she used the controversy to drive traffic to her site, yes, that’s despicable and unfair.”
Note #2: I neglected to give credit to reader Fred Davison, who suggested this topic. A belated and heartfelt thanks, Fred.