Sympathy Abuse: The Unethical Death Announcement Request


Take ’em or leave ’em.

The Miami Herald reports that Robert Maurius Reno, a younger brother of former U.S Attorney General Janet Reno has died. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking  friends to give to the Obama campaign –“even if they are Republicans.”

Wrong. Ethics foul.

I know that the Obama campaign has been promoting its tasteless brainstorm of encouraging wedding invitees and birthday celebrants to give money to the campaign rather than a gift, but this is emotional extortion. A citizen has a right to his or her own political activity, and short of using logic, facts and the power of persuasion to prompt a shift in loyalties, it is an abuse of the power of friendship and a misuse of sympathy to exploit a death to make someone give support to a cause, a party or a candidate that he or she would normally oppose.

If a family can compel Republicans to give to the campaign of a Democratic candidate, then it can use a family death to make an anti-abortion advocate give to Planned Parenthood, an Orthodox Jew contribute to Hamas, and a Red Sox fan buy a season ticket to watch the Yankees. This turns a generous and normal desire to show respect for the deceased and support for the grieving family into a trap to make mourners choose between violating their core beliefs and rejecting the wishes of the family.

The device is unfair, unmannerly, offensive and crude, and places politics over friendship and good taste. So is Obama’s birthday and wedding registry scheme, but that only  crossed an ethical line, while this obliterates it. Republican or Democrat, if you’re going to try this strong-arm tactic on me, don’t expect to see me at the funeral.

Or anywhere, for that matter. And I might just give double to the other side.


Pointer: James Taranto

Facts: Miami Herald

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at



5 thoughts on “Sympathy Abuse: The Unethical Death Announcement Request

      • It was a vibe I got from reading the article – what did it say again? He majored in Mardi Gras, or something like that? Going back to re-read…

        I had not even heard of the wedding and birthday scheme. I agree, that is just rotten, ridiculously partisan, and sliding down the slope.

        • Eh. He majored in the French Quarter. I remember when I was a little kid in the 60s and went with my parents to visit a relative in New Orleans. I overheard them talking about the French Quarter, and asked what the big deal was about the place. Mom, with a smile and twinkling eye, said something about “naked ladies.” So I asked again: What’s the big deal?

  1. This administration (especially this administration) and almost all politicians time and again show their lack of class, little or no manners, ethics and morals. Time and again they display their greed.

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