Ethics Quiz: Does The Golden Rule Ever Make You a Sucker?

For Ken Anderson, an alternative tattoo instead of "Mother"

With great trepidation, I visit our friends to the North for the second time in a week…this time, for an Ethics Quiz.

Ken Anderson, 47, of British Columbia, has been fighting a lawsuit by his aged mother, Shirley Anderson, since 2000. Using a rarely used section of B.C.’s Family Relations Act, she is demanding that he pay her $750 per month in “parental support.” The law declares that adult children are responsible for legally supporting parents who are “dependent on a child because of age, illness, infirmity or economic circumstances.”

Anderson isn’t keen on the request, since both his parents abandoned him when he was a mere tyke of 15, leaving him behind as they moved away with two younger siblings. He lived with other families and then quit school to find work. Now he’s married with two kids, and makes his living driving a truck.

“We don’t have a relationship,” he says of dear old Mom. “I haven’t talked to her in years and years and years. She’s just out to make our life miserable.”

But she is, after all, his mother.

Your question, Ethics Alarmers, is this: Assuming he can avoid the clutches of British Columbia’s law, is the ethical conduct for Ken to support his mother in her waning years, even if she refused to support him? Or is he still well within ethical bounds to only use his hard earned money for a family he feels obligated to support…his own?

I know what my mother would have said about this. “Your family never stops being your family!”  Many a child has rejected his parents, only to find them welcoming him back into their arms when a crisis loomed. Fick* that she undeniably is, Shirley still gave Ken life, and cared for him for 15 years before she left him to fend for himself.  My mother would say that he has an obligation to help her now.

I think that’s asking a lot…too much, in fact. If Ken felt the obligation my mother extolled and wanted to help his mother despite the unmotherly way she treated him, I would salute him: that is exemplary ethical behavior. It is not unethical, however, for him to conclude that she severed the parental bond when she abandoned him. The law is unjust, and this situation shows why.  When a mother leaves her boy behind, it is fair for the son to conclude that further obligations to her have ceased—not out of anger, not as revenge, but as simple fairness. Shirley Anderson isn’t seeking out Ken as a son even now; to her, he is just an untapped financial resource.

I would send her a check in appreciation for the use of her womb, and tell her to stay out of my life, and those of my real family. In this situation, applying the Golden Rule makes one a sucker.

But if you agree with my mother, I’m not going to disagree with you. I lost that argument too many times.


*fick, n.: [Origin: named after the despicable Leroy Fick.] A person who engages in outrageously unethical, selfish or antisocial conduct without appropriate shame or contrition, and continues to engage in it after it has been discovered and condemned.

6 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Does The Golden Rule Ever Make You a Sucker?

  1. What is truely sad and I am not in his shoes to know for sure, but I may feel obligated. Seeing it from this perspective though I hope I wouldn’t feel that way as she deserves nothing but an “I love you, mom”. But anything more…wow. Really?! Stay true, Ken!

  2. Jack,
    Just what I would suspect from someone who NEVER CALLS. Why couldn’t you have been more like that Johnson boy? He’s a doctor, you know.


  3. Legally, I don’t think children should ever have a responsibility to financially support their parents. Children do not choose to be born, parents choose to have children. Their children get no say in the matter. It is parents responsibility to plan ahead to take care of themselves later. Parents have a responsibility and obligation to support their children financially (at least until they reach adulthood). Children do not have any similar obligations to their parents. Additionally, most families today require both parties to be working full-time just to support themselves and their children. Requiring them to financially take care of their parents as well would be an incredible burden to most families. Not to mention, that by being required to support their parents, that means they have less money to plan for their own retirement so that they will not be dependent on their adult children several decades down the line.

    That being said, I think that children should help financially support their parents as a matter of ethics, at least in most cases. If you still have a relationship with your parents and are able to assist them, I believe it would be cruel to refuse to help them if they need it. However, if you haven’t spoken to your parents in years, or simply can’t afford to financially help them, I can understand not helping them.

    I don’t think that you really “owe” your parents anything. I understand the argument that “your parents raised you, it’s the least you could do”, but again, they CHOSE to have you. You had no say in the matter. Once they chose to have children, it is their responsibility to take care of those children. It is not their children’s responsibility to take care of them later on.

    I hope to never have to worry about taking care of my parents, but I know that they most likely will need at least some financial help at some point. If and when that day comes, I would happily help them if I could. However, given that I would most likely have a family of my own by that point, combined with the fact that my parents are divorced (which means two rent payments, two car payments, two everything), there is a very good possibility that I would not have the financial resources to help them even if they desperately needed it. This is why I make the argument that people should not be legally required to help support their parents — because there are a lot of people who simply wouldn’t be able to do so.

    • I agree that a legal obligation to assist one’s parents is inappropriate. There is a moral and ethical obligation, absent intervening factors. I’m not impressed by the “they chose to have you” argument—it’s a rationalization. They chose, and you got a life out of it at very least, and usually quite a bit more—a roof over your head, food, love and affection, a protector, and a family. That demands gratitude, and when the need arises, reciprocity.

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