In Taiwan, a distraught young woman sent streaming photos* of her suicide attempt as she conversed with nine Facebook friends. Some urged her to stop, but none tried to contact police or rescue professionals as she asphyxiated herself with burning charcoal fumes. Yes, her attempt was successful. You can read the disturbing story of Claire Lin’s Facebook suicide here.
Would this happen in America? I wouldn’t be surprised. Sociologists are already weighing in with opinions about the isolation of social media and how the internet makes reality seem less real. I doubt that any of that was especially important in this incident. There have been so many other examples of people left to die with potential rescuers aplenty that were documented on Ethics Alarms and elsewhere, from the Mount Everest climbers who walked past their dying companion, to the more recent case of the Apple store employees who listened to a women get beaten to death in Maryland, that teach us that too many people have the natural inclination not to take affirmative action to help another in distress, and that the instinctive rescuers are the exception, not the rule.
Our culture should teach and reinforce the shared societal duty to come to the assistance of others in peril, but in fact it teaches the opposite. Most of us are told to mind our own business, to think of “Number One”, and make reverse Golden Rule calculations to rationalize inaction (“He wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help me!”) We are taught to fear lawsuits, to wait for professionals (even if they aren’t coming), and to be fearful of making a bad situation worse. And, of course, we are conditioned to let the other person take the risk, so we can have our cake (not get involved) and eat it too ( see the situation resolved without anyone being harmed). And if we wait just a bit too long for that other person to do the right thing, we can always blame him (or her), saying, “I thought someone else would do it!”
What happened in Taiwan is the result of such life-long societal messages and habits, and it could easily have been the result in the U.S. What would have made a difference, and saved a life, is if one of Lin’s fearful, passive, slug-like friends were instead an individual raised in a home that emphasized individual courage, caring, responsibility, and resistance to accepting tragedy and wrongdoing when a person has the power to prevent them. America needs more such homes, as, apparently, does Taiwan.
As I wrote last year in regard to the Maryland incident:
Parents, while they are teaching their children such basics as “Look both ways when you cross the street,” “Don’t take candy from strangers,” “Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’,” “Tell the truth” and “Treat your elders with respect” need to make sure “Always do what you can to help another human being in peril” is on the list.
We have an ethical duty to rescue our fellow human beings .
It really is as simple as that.
* My original information suggested a video, but this appears to have been incorrect. Thanks to Julian Hung for the correction.