Ethics Quiz: The Vetoed Wish

“When you wish upon a star…it depends how sick you are!”

This one is so convoluted with cross-cutting issues that I’m not going to even try to make the call until I read some responses.

McKenna May is four-years-old and has survived leukemia. Her mother and grandmother submitted her wish to go to Walt Disney World to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, according to its mission statement, selects children with life-threatening medical conditions and grants their wishes. McKenna’s wish was granted by the charity, but then withdrawn  because her father, William May, who is divorced from McKenna’s mother, refused to sign the required approvals. He believes that the Make-A-Wish funds should be spent on children who are terminally ill, and not children like McKenna, who have been cured. McKenna’s mother, Whitney Hughes, says that the real reason May has killed his daughter’s dream is to punish Hughes for restricting his visiting rights.

Your Ethics Alarms Quiz Question:

Assuming May is not doing so out of spite, is his decision to pass up his daughter’s dream trip to the Mouse Kingdom so that a more needy child can be helped an altruistic and noble gesture, or an unethical act of disloyalty and betrayal to his young daughter?

Interestingly, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s regional CEO says that McKenna does qualify, because “She’s been through a lot.” Funny, I don’t see the organization’s mission saying anything about granting the wishes of “kids who have been through a lot.” I thought that wishes were granted only to very sick children, if not those who were terminal, then at least those who were very seriously ill. Now the foundation is saying that children in the pink of health, facing a long and full life, are eligible to use the funds in place of a child who is terminally ill? Or was this wish just granted during a slow period?

Still, if the charity that does this as its primary mission has determined that McKenna is eligible for a Disney World trip, who is William May to challenge its judgment? Does he, as a stranger, have a higher ethical duty to theoretical Make-A-Wish applicants who might be denied their wish despite being sicker than his daughter than he does as a father, to his own little girl? Or is he that rare ethical being, a man who can put aside his own conflicts of interest to do what’s right, and look out for those truly sick children even at the price of his daughter’s dream? Is he courageous, or is he disloyal?

I must confess, my inner Bill James tendencies have me close to pronouncing the father as ethically admirable. Then there is this wrinkle: exploiting the negative publicity about William May’s veto, McKenna’s mother is mounting a public appeal for contributions to send her daughter to Disney World.

In a word, blecch!

This is begging at its worst, and an abuse of charity. Why should anyone be asked to pay for a family vacation? If McKenna is going to live a long life, shouldn’t the family be saving for her college education? Is giving money to a healthy young girl so she can ride on Space Mountain really a responsible use of a public appeal for charity? And if it isn’t, doesn’t this suggest that William May is right?


Facts: The Sentinel Tribune

Graphic: Living Cinema

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

65 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Vetoed Wish

  1. I am still trying to understand how they are misrepresenting themselves to their donors. This is not a “new” thing and it is not an “unadvertised” thing. Just because you have not heard of it does not mean they are misrepresenting themselves.
    Excerpt from link below
    “My good friend, Lauren Buben, is a survivor of childhood leukemia. As a child, she was given her Disney princess dream come true through the Make A Wish Foundation. Now, as a cancer-free teenager, she’s giving back to the foundation that gave her hope.”

    • There’s nothing in that article or quote that suggests the Disney princess dream came after she survived leukemia.

      For the overall idea, the foundation’s mission is for kids with life threatening conditions, not children who previously had life threatening conditions. I see that as a pretty large distinction.

      • This is pretty sad but I think might help.
        The five year time frame is not arbitrary, that is when she will be considered “cured” as of right now, that little girl still has a “life-threatening” condition. She is just at this point healthy enough to actually take the trip. While yes, her chances are better now, I doubt anyone who just finished their last treatment would consider themselves out of the woods and all better now.

          • It doesn’t change the ethics calculation whether she is cured or not as I argue below.

            “Life threatening can be survived and cured. Terminal, by definition, cannot. The child suffered a life threatening condition and because it was life threatening was able to survive and in this case potentially be cured. Whether or not she is cured it makes no difference to her eligibility as she still suffered the life threatening condition.”

  2. *sigh*. If you’re going to misrepresent the situation we’ve been arguing over, what’s the point in discussing this? – It’s always the point I’ve been arguing.

    “First, your argument here has already been debunked.” – Where? She met the criteria. She suffers and still does a life threatening condition. The fathers argument was that only children that were “terminal” should be granted wishes, this is in contrast to the eligibility criteria.

    “1, The resources have not all been spent.” – I accept your point
    “2. Just because the resources have been used does not mean it’s ethical to accept them.” – Agreed

    “3. We’ve been over the criteria before. If Make-a-Wish really grants the wishes of people who have survived life-threatenind medical conditions (like the case we’re talking about), then they are being duplicitous towards their donors.”

    This sentence is interesting – “If Make-a-Wish really grants the wishes of people who have survived life-threatenin(g) medical conditions”

    So, do Make-A-Wish only grant the wish once they haven’t survived?

    That would be difficult.

    This is the crux of the agrument we are having. Your point is the same as the Fathers. If you’re not to survive a life threatening confition you are, therefore, “terminal”.

    The simple fact she had the life-threatening condition means she is eligble for the wish and ethically entitled to take it.

    This is why the Foundation use the term “life-threatening” not “terminal” in the eligibility criteria.

    “My argument is that the child did not meet the eligibility criteria that the foundation represents to the public at large to solicit donations.”

    Which part of this paragraph below, available to donors who give money to the foundation didn’t she meet?

    A child with a life-threatening medical condition who has reached the age of 2½ and is under the age of 18 at the time of referral, is potentially eligible for a wish.

    I think you are still confusing the terms “life threatening” and “terminal”. Life threatening can be survived and cured. Terminal, by definition, cannot. The child suffered a life threatening condition and because it was life threatening was able to survive and in this case potentially be cured. Whether or not she is cured it makes no difference to her eligibility as she still suffered the life threatening condition.

  3. About 5 years ago my husband and I were asked to host a table for a Make a Wish event. They placed a child that had been awarded a “gift” at every table. The child had produced a little painting made with tempera paint of her trip to the Mall of America. Her painting was auctioned off and of course everyone at our table placed a bid. It was purchased for an obscene amount of money. One table over sat a handsome group from a bank. They were young, good looking, and drinking just enough to be a little loud and obnoxious but still able to bid on auction items. On stage came a little family. One of the handsome bank guys and his attractive wife walked on stage with their two darling daughters. The proceeded to tell the story of how their family had a trip to Disneyland all planned out. Tickets were purchased and the event was on the calendar. A few months before the planned family vacation, one of the little girls was diagnosed with something I can’t remember. They canceled their trip and the little girl began treatment. She was much better now and so Make a Wish was now sending the family to Disneyland! I was dumbstruck! With me at that table was one of my husband’s co-workers who has a severely Autistic son. We have a son severely, severely disabled. Which is worse? Having and caring for your child for yours and their full life or going through a year or two of struggles? Neither is good but since we all have trials in our life, I decided mine was harder! My son is 26 and I have bathed, fed and changed his diaper for almost every day of those 26 years. I made up my mind that night to NEVER support Make a Wish Foundation. Since then I have encountered many other senseless and frivolous gifts given to families by this organization. Last evening on our local news they reported a story about a family that had received an eviction notice the same day their son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Make a wish offered to send the boy to disneyland! The neighbors pooled their money and paid for 6 months rent for the family so they would have a place to live! I grew up in Illinois, I never went to Disneyland as a child. When our child was born with many problems and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, my first thought was not, “I wonder if we could go to Disneyland”? My virgin trip to the magic kingdom was with my husband and our other 5 children who had to wait until we could afford to drive there from Oregon. Pack our food and fix it in our hotel room. We left our handicapped child with a loving friend so that our other children could have our undivided attention. I think the idea of “Make a Wish” was originally a great concept but it has become so wealthy and out of control.

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