Presenting The First New Rationalization Of 2017: #32A Imaginary Consent, or “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way”

roxieThe 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.

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Special Thanks to Reader/Commenter Zoltar Speaks!, who suggested the new entry.

39 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Family, Health and Medicine

39 responses to “Presenting The First New Rationalization Of 2017: #32A Imaginary Consent, or “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way”

  1. 32A is applicable when we justify aborting a baby known to have birth defects.

  2. That sounds like how parents donate to a rehabs that failed, being embraced by the recovery community workers who ‘watched him struggle’ and being newly convinced that addiction is a disease needing more funding….saying had he not killed himself, he would have wanted that 16th stint in rehab and the same treatment for others.

  3. deery

    But if, like in the case of Cushing, you have expressly delegated the affairs of your estate to someone else, aren’t you in fact explicitly signaling to both them and others that you trust their judgment on this, and that they should proceed as best they know how, taking your wishes into account? Otherwise, why have wills, power of attorneys, DNRs, etc at all? It really isn’t even implied consent. More like explicit consent.

    • “But if, like in the case of Cushing, you have expressly delegated the affairs of your estate to someone else”

      Expressly delegating your consent only makes it legal deery.

      But we’re discussing Ethics.

      Just because Cushing’s beneficiaries COULD give permission, doesn’t mean they SHOULD have given permission.

      • deery

        Expressly delegating your consent only makes it legal deery.

        But we’re discussing Ethics.

        Just because Cushing’s beneficiaries COULD give permission, doesn’t mean they SHOULD have given permission.

        Yes, but I have yet to hear why they *shouldn’t*, other than, “well, he wouldn’t have wanted it that way.” Which to me, is just the same side of this rationalization, only going the other way.

        • As a matter of fact it does boil down to assumptions of unknowns. But, in the case of balancing two unknowns, the ethical choice is for one to play it safe and default to what *would be* the least harmful to a person, in this case we assume that had he been alive, he would NOT have wanted the CGI done. As doing nothing without his consent would be less harmful than doing something without his consent.

          • deery

            Ah, I am beginning to understand you all’s reasoning, somewhat. I don’t see the harm in it, no more than licensing photos or a video game avatar of him after he died, but you and Jack do.

            So because you feel Cushing could not have possibly contemplated this sort of technology, the ethical thing to do would be to never allow his image to be involved with it? Even if he expressly delegated decisions about the use (and profit from) his image to his estate? So under your framework, one would have to grind down to the details of exactly how the image would be used, otherwise the estate would be using the images unethically. Blanket consents, “hey I’m dead, do whatever you want with me” could not be pointed to ethically as reasons?

            We aren’t ever going to be able to contemplate exactly what the future holds after we are long gone and turned to dust. But that’s why we have wills and estates, so that people that we trust can make those decisions for us. Absent any clear evidence going in the other direction, I would tend to trust that the deceased put their judgment in the right people’s hands to make the ethical decisions regarding their estate. It seems rather presumptuous on the part of complete strangers to assume the opposite.

            • I’m with you on this one. Anyone who is a fan of Star Wars and is watching the movies for the characters, gets to experience more Tarkin. Anyone who is a fan of Cushing and is analyzing his performance is discarding this “role” because they know it’s not his performance, but rather, Guy Henry’s performance with digital makeup. The role isn’t any different than the one that Peter Cushing himself agreed to portray back in the 70s so the “affiliation” angle isn’t changed.

              Go a step further, if it’s wrong for the Estate to manage his likeness for Rogue One, what’s the ethics for Tarkin’s use and greatly expanded role in Star Wars Rebels?

              • I don’t see what’ so hard about the concepts,

                “After I’m dead, I don’t want somebody making people think I’m giving a performance when I have nothing to do with it.”
                ” I don’t want somebody other than me deciding what is beneath my dignity.”
                “I don’t want anyone polluting my body of work with fake avatars and doppelgangers, so eventually people don’t know what performances were mine.”
                “I don’t want my voice, face and body made to do something I may not have agreed to, and without me knowing what that was and consenting to it, nobody can know what that would be.”

                • They own his likeness for the purposes of creating Tarkin in animation. What is a digital recreation if not really good animation? I get what you want, but you aren’t the one with a contract and you haven’t pointed to anything Cushing said about the future use of his likeness. However, I point to this:

                  “Cushing contrasted sharply with co-star Alec Guinness in that he enjoyed his experience on the film, appreciated the renewed interest in his work from young fans and only regretted that he could not appear in the sequels.”

                  Kroft, Jack (May 30, 1977). “Fun in Space”. Newsweek

                • deery

                  “After I’m dead, I don’t want somebody making people think I’m giving a performance when I have nothing to do with it.”
                  ” I don’t want somebody other than me deciding what is beneath my dignity.”
                  “I don’t want anyone polluting my body of work with fake avatars and doppelgangers, so eventually people don’t know what performances were mine.”
                  “I don’t want my voice, face and body made to do something I may not have agreed to, and without me knowing what that was and consenting to it, nobody can know what that would be.”

                  So if someone leaves their estate, which in Cushing’s case, his very valuable likeness and image to someone to decide what to do with, aren’t they explicitly allowing those people to substitute their judgment for Cushing’s own? Absent any firm declarations otherwise, why wouldn’t we trust them to do what is best? Someone has to decide, and even a lack of a decision is still a decision.

                  You seem to have a visceral horror of this usage of posthumous images, but there is no evidence that Cushing did. And he did leave people in charge of deciding whether he would have or not. Why not trust them to do the job they were specifically entrusted to do?

                  • If he said, “My career, form and reputation is yours to exploit, sell, protect or trash as you like,”…sure. That’s consent. It there any reason to believe that’s what happened?

                    • Is there any reason to believe that you have more information on this subject than the studio and his estate who have copies of his will, instructions, personal memories of his stated wishes and most importantly, his contract?

                      I’ll agree that your ethics are sound in your hypothetical situation where there’s zero accompanying information. However, that’s not what we have here. We’re bystanders to others with more complete information. I think they should be afforded the benefit of the doubt.

                    • The main reason is that Cushing died 22 years ago. CGI resurrection of dinosaurs was just a year before, in Jurassic Park, and Cushing was from an earlier generation. How likely was it that this eventuality even crossed his mind?

              • dragin_dragon

                Tarkin in ‘Rebels’ looks more like a skinny George C. Scott.

      • Zanshin

        In my view there are two ethics discussion going on in the Cushing case,
        a. is it ethical to give permission?
        b. how do you take responsibility for giving or not giving permission?

        texagg04 wrote, “Just because Cushing’s beneficiaries COULD give permission, doesn’t mean they SHOULD have given permission.”
        That’s true but it is not clear to me if giving permission is in this case/allways unethical.

        If the family had said something like, “we just do it for the money” they would be upfront and thereby ethical in defending their decision.

    • “They have control over it” is different from “He would have wanted it.” “He delegated the decision to me” is valid, if he was aware the decision was in the offing—I doubt Cushing was anticipating being re-animated, but who knows.

      My story about pulling the plug on Mom is on point. She wanted us to have the decision, but she wouldn’t have agreed with the decision.

      • deery

        I guess I’m confused then. If you know for almost certain she would not have wanted it to come out the way that you decided, then why was your decision the ethical one, under this theory. Isn’t it basically the same as the dog owner’s story that you used as an example?

  4. Tom Gleason

    What about in this case? A man who had been to multiple rehabs finally decided that the ‘disease’ was too powerful and he could not bear to live with ‘alcoholism’ anymore. He was allowed to be euthanized. “Alcoholism and depression are illnesses, just like cancer. People who suffer from it need a humane way out.”

    What if, like the U.S. and most of us would do, the Netherlands just called him insane and incapable of knowing what he really wants because he was under the influence of Alcoholics Anonymous dogma?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/man-holland-netherlands-dutch-euthanised-alcohol-addiction-alcoholic-netherlands-a7446256.html

  5. I actually would have liked to have seen what some good prosthetic make-up on Guy Henry could have done for the character….I’d wager it would have been more convincing and they could have saved the need for permission from Cushing’s estate and paying them royalties.

  6. I knew here was a new rationalization in there somewhere. Good job pulling it out and making sense out of it!

  7. Wayne

    It seems like there is an element of psychopathy in this rationalization.

    • dragin_dragon

      In the rationalization or in the behavior it addresses? Actually, I don’t see psychopathy in either. Both, at least in Mr. Cushing’s relatives case, seem to stem from outright greed, which is certainly reprehensible but is not a symptom of any psychopathy of which I am aware. Rationalizing a behavior regarding a family member, especially if that behavior is designed to produce a profit from a dead relatives image…?

  8. Otto

    Jack, this is a helpful addition to the list of (irrational) rationalizations. I think the trick is having enough awareness of ourselves and knowledge of others to know when the rationale is being employed as a legitimate reason and when it is being employed as a rationalization. If Roxie didn’t or can’t or doesn’t express her opinion, it’s an appeal to non-existent (thus irrelevant) authority whether I’m arguing “Roxie would want to be euthanized” or “Roxie would not want to be euthanized”. In both cases, I am offering something I imagine as evidence of what someone or something else thinks or would think. If the only evidence I offer is what comes from my imagination, I’m probably employing this (or some other) rationalization.

    Besides, “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way” is usually* entirely irrelevant. If what I want you to do is unethical, it remains unethical regardless of my wanting you to do it. If what I want you to do is ethical, you should be doing it whether or not you even know what I want. (*I assume there are rarer cases in which the person’s preferences are the deciding factor as to whether a particular action is ethical or unethical.)

    • Deery

      Yes, I agree with this. But the way it’s being used , per the examples on this post, it seems to be ok to use the rationale, if you feel the underlying behavior was ethical, but not ok, if you feel it was not. When it is mostly irrelevant to the analysis of whether the original behavior was ethical or not. It seems to be a conflation more than anything else.

  9. As a new reader of this blog this was my introduction to the Rationalization List, which I have now duly printed (for easier reading purposes only), and shall be making my way through at a pace that allows for digestion and suitable retention. Looks awesome. Thanks to all who have contributed their time, since I’m assuming Mr. Marshall had some help with this rather in-depth piece?

    • I wrote and compiled it all, but the rationalizations were all defined, unwittingly, by the millions who have used them for centuries or more. Several have been suggested by readers, and texagg has provided invaluable categorization.

      • It’s has already been a great (and informative) read, and should prove immensely helpful when I’m lurking about in these parts. Thanks to all once again.

  10. luckyesteeyoreman

    I have some ambivalence about this addition to the list. Maybe I am still just waking up. Maybe I am awake, but still viewing this thread and concept from too high of a – um, perspective.

    How does one reconcile role-playing – any role-playing of any character, any figure who lived in world history at any time or place – let alone “fidelity of emulation” of any such character, with complete avoidance of this rationalization? The obvious example for me is, “What Would Jesus Do?”

    Or, if you prefer, “How would Bear Bryant play Clemson?” How would Bob Gibson pitch to Jose Altuve? And so on.

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