Pointing out the breach of ethics when parents endanger children by allowing, encouraging, pushing, or forcing them to risk their lives before they are old enough to comprehend what risking their life means has been a periodic theme on Ethics Alarms. There was 16-year old Abby Sunderland, who had to be rescued from an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. Paul Romero sent his son Jordan, 13, out to be the youngest to climb Mount Everest. In April of this year, the Coast Guard had to rescue the sick one-year-old of Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, who brought the baby and their three-year old along as they tried to circumnavigate the globe in their yacht. (Never mind, they all had life jackets.). Less likely to be fatal but epic in its length was the ordeal “the Biking Vogels” put their twin sons through, as they were forced to live on bicycles for years while their parents lived out their low-tech “Easy Rider” fantasies, peddling across America.
As was bound to happen, another set of parents in this unethical club have met with tragedy of their own engineering. Haris Suleman and his father, Babar Suleman, from Plainfield, Indiana, were attempting to fly around the world with the newly licensed teen piloting their single-engine aircraft. The journey, to be completed in 30 days, would have set a record. Gotta set those records! The Biking Vogels were determined to set a record too.
As the plane piloted by a 17-year-old novice pilot took off from an airport in Pago Pago in American Samoa, it suddenly lost power and crashed into the water. The boy is dead; the father’s body has yet to be found.
Now the story is being framed by the news media as a tear-jerking human interest story. The boy died doing what he loved! The stunt was for charity—it was for such a noble cause! “It was an absolutely noble cause that they took this journey on, and they knew the dangers,” a family friend said during a news conference in Plainfield. Wrong. No 17-year-old knows the risks of anything: that’s why it’s the job of responsible parents to protect them from their own bad judgment and sense of invincibility. Whether children fully understand it or not, they trust their parents to guide them away from harm, not into it. That is, unless they have parents who see their children as a vicarious or direct way to realize their own ambitions. We are told that Daddy Suleman “had long dreamed of flying around the world” and that “he and his son decided to make the adventure a fundraiser for the Citizens Foundation, which has built 1,000 schools in Pakistan.” Right. His son decided that. All by himself. Sure.
The father decided to realize his dream by endangering his son, and that’s a the sad and unpleasant truth. Nobody would have paid any attention to a 58-year-old pilot flying around the globe: his son’s participation was essential to Babar Sulemon’s dream. What choice did the son have? As in all the other cases above, not much. Young Sulemon wasn’t as lucky as the rest, which doesn’t mean his father was more reckless than the other parents. They all engage in child endangerment, while the news media, neighbors and fatuous relatives cheer them on.
Graphic: Daily News