The Ethicist Apparently Endorses Discrimination As Ethical

, the New York Times Magazine’s ethics columnist, just opened a can of metaphorical worms, and I’m going to spread them around a little. It may get messy.

A woman—actually, now that I re-read the post, we don’t know it’s a woman— wrote to be reassured that he or she wasn’t a bad person for wanting to dump a man she had engaged in a nascent romantic relationship after discovering that he had Crohn’s Disease. “I know I’m being selfish, but is it unethical to not date him because of it?” she wrote. ” I don’t know what to do to support him, and I am worried about the future. He said it’s very likely his intestinal issues could get worse, and his life expectancy may be shorter. I want to shield myself from the pain, but I also feel like a terrible person for even thinking about it.”

Hey, don’t feel bad,  sayeth “The Ethicist”:

“Once someone is truly a friend or a lover, you have all kinds of responsibilities to them that you didn’t have before. So for example, it would be deplorable to abandon a spouse because he or she has become seriously ill. That’s part of what’s meant by saying a marriage is to endure “in sickness and in health.” Of course, this can turn out to be a promise someone can’t keep. But precisely because a partnership is for the long term, you can appropriately consider what your lives together would be like before you enter into one. When a potential partner is already seriously ill, committing to this person may be committing to a life as a caregiver. (The specific condition you mention has a wide range of severity; it can be mild and well controlled or genuinely debilitating.) You don’t owe it to anyone to accept that burden; indeed, if you think you don’t want such a life, you have a good reason not to enter into the relationship. It doesn’t make you a terrible person to think about the issue. The terrible thing would be to make the commitment and then to be unable to keep it.”

Oddly for “The Ethicist,” he ducked the main question that was asked, and instead answered what he thought was an easier one.   The questions he answered were ” Is it wrong to reject a commitment to someone because that commitment may be too burdensome?,” and “Is it wrong to think about the issue?” (It isn’t wrong to think about anything, regardless of what Black Lives Matter says. They should see what I think about them.)

What the inquirer was asking, however, is whether she should end a casual relationship—she had only known the guy through Zoom, after all—because he had Crone’s Disease, before she could form an attachment to him and might decide that he was worth the trouble…make that  potential trouble.

I see no distinction between what she wants to do and invidious discrimination in any other relationship, like employment. Discrimination is when you treat someone worse than someone else because of who they are and  features they have no control over, rather than what they do, have done, or “the content of their character.” It is also discrimination to make judgments about someone based on assumptions about people “like” them—profiling, essentially. “I don’t want to date him, even though I really like him, because he has a handicap” is,  as I see it, indistinguishable from saying, “I don’t want to hire her because she has a handicap/ is likely to become pregnant/ is old/ is black.”

That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/6/2020: No, We’re Not On The Eve Of Destruction. Stop Saying That!

But thanks for an excuse to play the #2 most stupid psuedo-profound pop song of all time, #1 being, of course, “Imagine.” Take it away, Barry!

1. Mouse in the house. In the 30 years our home was patrolled by Jack Russell terriers, we virtually never saw a mouse (though Rugby literally wouldn’t hurt a fly). Lately, however, we have seen several, including a really, really cute one who is amazingly bold. This tiny mouse has big black eyes and little pink ears, with reddish brown fur. He also seems to like my wife, whom he crept up on the sofa to sit by repeatedly last night while she was napping. Ethically, we are at an impasse. I keep thinking about “Ben and Me,” the Disney cartoon about Ben Franklin’s apocryphal mouse pal, and my wife can’t bear the thought of killing her new fan. But we can’t have mice running around the house.

2. From the Ethics Alarms mail bag: Guess the rationalization! Steve Witherspoon aks what rationalization General Mattis’s fatuous statement, “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,”  from his attack on the President evokes. Several, in fact. It’s a clear #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things,”  as well as the suddenly popular #64. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is.” Riots in dozens of cities, arson, looting and attacks on over 100 police cannot be called “a small number of lawbreakers.” It’s also a neat #59. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!” As long as those “small number of lawbreakers” aren’t threatening Mattis or his family, he’s willing to accept what happens…to other people being victimized by rioters. Continue reading

So The Judge’s Wife Is On The Jury…Wait, WHAT?

“Hi hon!”

I haven’t seen this before.

Judge Thomas Ensor of Adams County, Colorado, now retired, sat back and allowed his wife to be empaneled on the jury trying Gary Val Richardson for allegedly firing one or two shots in the direction of police officers during a 2013 standoff.

The judge even thought the situation was funny. He joked during jury selection that lawyers should “be nice to Juror 25. My dinner is on the line.” After the jury was selected and sworn in, Ensor told the lawyers that he had never heard of a sitting judge having a spouse or family member on the jury. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “I think she’ll be a fine juror. I have not spoken to her about this case.”

One of my rules of thumb for avoiding legal ethics problems in trial is that if you’ve never heard of something being done before, there’s probably a good reason not to be the first to do it. Continue reading

Saturday Morning Ethics, 5/30/2020: Burn, Baby, Burn Nostalgia

1. Bulletin for Gov. Walz: Derek Chauvin has civil rights too, you irresponsible fool. I have just watched Minnesota’s Governor repeatedly refer to George Floyd’s “murder.” An elected public official cannot and must not do that. If he wants to guarantee that a fair trial in the case becomes impossible, this is the way to do it. There has been no trial, and however horrible the video of Floyd’s  death may be, Chauvin and the other officers have the right to the presumption of innocence. Now a St. Paul’s mayor is at the podium calling for Chauvin to be held “accountable.” Well, he’s under arrest and will face trial, and for now, that’s about it.  All of this outrage porn and virtue-signaling now enables the rioters by pretending that there is anything productive to be done but to wait for the justice system to play out. Continue reading

Censorship “For The Greater Good” Loses A Round In Massachusetts

Good.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts (that’s like the state Supreme Court in a normal state) held that free speech rights were wrongly infringed upon by a lower court’s non-disparagement order forbidding the husband or wife from posting about their divorce on Facebook and other social media sites until their child turned 14. The child at issue was a toddler when the ruling was handed down.

It is disturbing to me that judges lack sufficiently Americanized ethics alarms to squelch the temptation to issue rulings like the one overturned.  Sure, kids are harmed by their parents saying terrible things about each other, but there is nothing special about such communications on social  media. Parents harm their kids by screaming at each other in the kitchen. That’s life.

“We conclude that the nondisparagement orders at issue here operate as an impermissible prior restraint on speech,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled. Though the  judge “put careful thought into his orders in an effort to protect a child caught in the middle of a legal dispute who was unable to advocate for himself… there was no showing of an exceptional circumstance that would justify the imposition of a prior restraint, the nondisparagement orders issued here are unconstitutional.”

 Two Norfolk Probate and Family Court judges issued the original bans when the ugly divorce between Ronnie Shak and his former wife, Masha  Shak, who shared one son born in 2017, spread to social media.
Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Troublesome Acronym

I owe commenter Benjamin Ethics Alarms’ gratitude for the inspiration of today’s ethics quiz.

The acronym for the grouping of the various and growing number of gender and sexual orientations that vary from the heterosexual norm was relatively recently the unwieldy LGBTQUIA. At an earlier time, I was comfortable with my understanding of what the letters designated: L was for Lesbian, G was for Gay, B was for Bi-sexual, T was for Transgender, and Q was for Queer, which seems redundant to me, but I’m sure an activist could explain its inclusion. After that, my limited ability to remember sequences of letters and numbers (I can’t remember phone numbers either, and never could) made the expanding acronym beyond my capacity to either recite or explain.

I am happy to say that I am not alone: there is even a website devoted to deciphering the sequence, which it describes (as of today, May 9, 2020) as “LGBPTTQQIIAA+Alphabet Soup.”

Well, that’s hopeless. Psychologists tell us that the typical human being can only easily recall unrelated letters, numbers, names or words up to seven; longer than that, and one either needs a lot of practice (as in learning the components of the Boy Scout Law: “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent,” which, I assure you, I will be able to recite without hesitation until the moment I die, and quite possibly after), or a good mnemonic. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, V-E Day 75th Anniversary Edition

To my father and all the rest…

Thank-you for saving the world.

1. About that Eva Murry story. The last we heard from Eva Murry, she was telling the story of how creepy Joe Biden complimented her on the size of her breasts 12 years ago, when she was 14. Ethics Alarms noted at the time that the woman’s detailed account had no effect on the credibility of Tara Reade’s allegations one way or the other, since we already knew Biden was creepy.  However,earlier this week Fox News reported : 

A past organizer for Delaware’s First State Gridiron Dinner now says Joe Biden did not attend the event in 2008, after a woman recently claimed the former vice president and senator sexually harassed her there, Fox News has learned….

Local news reports from the time said Biden was having sinus surgery earlier that week — to address issues including a deviated septum — and was scheduled to be out of work for the whole week.

At the time, his spokeswoman said that she “anticipates that he’ll be out for the remainder of the week recovering at his home in Wilmington,” according to a report in the News Journal at the time.

Murry’s aunt, Christine O’Donnell (of “I am not a witch” fame) says she remembers Murry talking about the event at the time, and  stood by her viece’s accusation, telling Fox,

“Yes, it could have been another year. So what? She was a teenager when I ran for office. It doesn’t make it okay. It happened when I was running for office against him. If it was 2007, that makes it even worse.”

But it couldn’t have been in 2007 either, because records place him in Iowa that evening.

All anyone can figure out is that young Murry ran into a different creep that she thought was Biden, though that seems unlikely too. What’s going on here? Why would the woman subject herself to national scrutiny and embarrassment by telling her story in such detail when it wasn’t true?

Since the new evidence came to light, she has been notably silent. That’s not right; she made an accusation against Biden, and needs to follow up with either an explanation or an apology. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz And Poll: The Nurse Practitioner’s Dilemma

Sure.

It is seldom that I strongly disagree with NYU philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Ethicist” of the New York Times Magazine’s long-running advice column. A month ago I did, and emphatically so.

The question posed to him involved a professional ethics dilemma, and “The Ethicist” was so certain he had the correct answer that he was uncharacteristically terse about it. I’m pretty certain about the answer too, except that my certainty is that he’s wrong. But I have some doubts, based on my ethical positions in related situations.

The inquirer was a a nurse practitioner working at a primary care clinic for low-income patients. She said that a 16-year-old patient told her that she had stopped coming by the clinic to have her birth control pills replenished because she and her partner were trying to have a baby together. She had been having unprotected sex for  a while, and she was concerned that she might have some physical problem preventing her from conceiving. The nurse practitioner asked,  “Would it be ethical for me to steer her away from trying to get pregnant? …Or, as her health care provider, do I have an ethical duty to try to help her conceive?”

Appiah doesn’t see any wiggle room. He says,

“You’re her health care provider. You should certainly tell her about the medical consequences of pregnancy. But the social and economic consequences don’t fall within your professional competence. An intervention about her life choices may seem moralizing and intrusive to her, and it could drive her away; and then she’d be losing your guidance on the things you are trained to help her with.”

Really? Continue reading

End Of The Day Ethics, 4/24/2020: A Curse, A Whorehouse, And The Grim Reaper

Yay.

Another weekend…

1. Nah, there’s no news media narrative coordination! Twitchy has pointed out the remarkable conformity of language regarding the Joe Biden sexual assault accusation. Last week, CNN reported that Democrats are “grappling with questions” about Tara Reade’s allegations. This week:

Politico: “The movement is facing a new challenge: how to grapple with the allegations against Joe Biden without tearing itself apart.”

Jake Tapper on Twitter: “Democrats grapple with questions about Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden…”

Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept: “My aim in writing this piece was to put into words what many principled people are grappling with right now, not to tell anyone what to do. Recognizing and understanding the problem helps us all decide what we believe is right…”

Mother Jones: “Sexual Assault Advocates Are Grappling With the Allegations Against Joe Biden”

All independent, objective journalists, of course…talking points? What talking points?

2. This “sharing a life” concept seems to be beyond you…over at Social Q’s a woman who is living with her boyfriend to ride out the pandemic complains, “He eats significantly more than I do, including some foods I don’t touch. Still, we split the grocery bill, and I am paying significantly more for food than usual. How should I handle this?” Columnist Phillip Gallanes’ advice is impeccably ethical:

Try stepping back and looking at the bigger picture…Sure, he eats more than you, but are you twice as messy (while sharing cleaning duties equally)? Do you watch three times as much Netflix (but split the bill in half)? And I haven’t even touched on emotional labor yet. ..if you want your partnership to survive even after we’re set free again, consider all the contributions each of you makes.

Nice try, Phil, but I’m guessing that question is signature significance, and the relationship is doomed. Continue reading

When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Michael Bublé Video

International singing superstar Michael Bublé has  been joined by his wife, Luisana Lopilato, on Instagram Live every day during the pandemic, entertaining his homes-bound fans. However, as you can see in the video above, a moment last week in which he elbowed Luisana with a hint of malice during a recent video livestream had creepy vibes, and it disturbed many viewers. The moment took only a second: as she started speaking over him, he made deliberate contact with her in a flash of anger, and she apologize to him. The celebrity news media, always eager for a scandal, publicized and criticized the incident, as the singer was flamed on social media.

I heard about the episode, and approached it assuming that it was a #MeToo over-reaction, with the singer becoming an innocent target being prepared as q sacrifice  for the greater good of womankind. Then I saw the clip, as well as some of the others shown in the  video above. Boy. I don’t know.

What I saw would make (and has made, in the past)  me very nervous if I observed the same kinds of interactions and body language between any couple I engaged with socially. How hard should it be to display good manners and not engage in questionable conduct like that on a live TV broadcast? The fact that the singer reacted instinctively in such an ugly manner strongly suggests that this is normal conduct for him, or worse, that he was restraining himself. Continue reading