The addition of New Rationalization #32A Imaginary Consent, or “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way” to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List became obligatory after it got a work-out over the holidays. Disney turning long dead character actor Peter Cushing into a zombie performer for the new “Star Wars” film was defended with the claim, which was almost surely also used by his heirs who were paid handsomely for the use of Cushing’s CGI avatar.
And that’s always the way this rationalization arrives. Someone wants to profit through some dubious scheme or transaction, and uses the argument that a revered and quite dead family member, personage of importance or icon “would have approved,” or “would have wanted it.” Like its progenitor 32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing,” which employs misdeeds of presumably admirable figures of the past as precedent for misdeed in the future, this is an appeal to irrelevant authority. Worse, Imaginary Consent presumes what cannot possibly be determined without prior express statements from the deceased.
This is one reason why DNR (“Do not resuscitate”) orders are essential. Using a fictional consent to absolve a decision-maker from actual responsibility is both a dodge and cowardly, as well as dishonest. I remember the horrible day that my sister and I were called upon to decide whether to terminate my mother, who was unconscious, on life support and beyond recovery. We made the decision quickly, and what my mother “would have wanted” was never a factor. (She had delegated the decision on her own DNR to my sister.) What my mother wanted, we both agreed, was to live forever. She would have been willing to have her comatose body waiting for a miracle or a cure until the hospital crumbled around her….in fact, that’s why she delegated the decision without instructions. Sure, it would have been easier to fool ourselves with #32A. But it would have been a lie.
The other true story this rationalization makes be think of is the time the elderly parents of a friend decided to euthanize their wonderful, bounding, big and joyful dog Roxie, some kind of a felicitous hybrid between a boxer and a freight train. They were moving into a resort where dogs were not allowed. I was aghast, but they insisted, “We just know Roxie wouldn’t be happy living with anyone else.”
I argued(they did not appreciate it), “You know what? I bet if she could talk, Roxie would say, ‘You know, I really like you guys, really, and I’ll miss you a lot, but on balance I think I’d rather keep living, thanks. I’ll miss you, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get over it. Have a great time in Florida.'”
They killed her anyway.
#32A is a way to pass off responsibility for an ethically dubious decision on someone who is beyond participation in that decision, and sometimes even the victim of it. It is cowardly, unaccountable, and based on an assertion that may not be true.
Special Thanks to Reader/Commenter Zoltar Speaks!, who suggested the new entry.