Ethics Quiz: Those Home Run Promises

I know I’ve run the video above recently, but it’s especially relevant here.

Besides, it’s funny, I need a laugh, and I may watch it every day for the rest of my life.

According to reports, Red Sox star Mookie Betts promised Make A Wish Foundation child Nico Sapienza before last night’s game with the New York Yankees that he would “step his game up against the Yankees and hit a homer.”

Betts hit three.

That’s impressive, and a storybook ending. However, no player knows if or when he can hit a four-bagger. None can hit home runs on demand, not even the Great Bambino.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is it ethical for a  ballplayer to promise a sick child that he will hit a home run ?

Comment Of The Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama”


I haven’t made one of the spammed Ethics Alarms hate comments a Comment of the Day for a while, but this one really asked for it. The commenter, who calls herself Sarah Bradley but isn’t, was spitting vitriol over a five-year old Ethics Alarms post that I remember well, the story about a mother’s attempt to shame and bully a cooking show star, Ina Garten, who politely turned down her sick son’s “Make A Wish Foundation” request that she hold a special live cooking exhibition just for him.  The mother  used her blog to call down the web Furies on the chef’s head, and I, as you may notice that I often do, pointed out that the conventional wisdom that the chef deserved the abuse was ethically obtuse, writing in part…

Garten’s refusal was not wrong, and it was not justification for criticism. There are many legitimate reasons for her choosing not to give Enzo an audience, including just not wanting to do it. Do all of us have an obligation to do a favor for a stranger simply because they asked for it? No. Do we have an obligation to do the favor if the stranger is sick? Young? Old? Dying? No, no, no and no. Accept any other answer, and we are declaring that whenever the Make-a-Wish Foundation delivers a request, it is really a demand, backed by the threat of public humiliation….dictatorship of the desperate, attack of the compassion bullies.

Would I make Enzo’s wish come true, under almost any circumstances? Yes. Ina Garten doesn’t have to. Would most celebrities? Yes…and Ina Garten still doesn’t have to. Being kind and generous is ethical, but saying no when there is no ethical duty to say yes is not unethical. If Enzo is making a request, then the request can be refused. If its isn’t really a request, but an order, Enzo has no right to issue it. There is a duty to rescue. There is a duty to confront and report wrongdoing. But a duty to comply with the random desires of sick children? Absolutely not.

I wish all of my posts were as clear and well-argued as that one. Yet “Sarah” thought it was deserving of an abusive, ethics- and logic- free attack, because she reasons like about 85% of the commenters on most blogs and news aggregating sites. There no objective logic, no balancing of interests, no understanding of values, no ability to distinguish rationalizations from ethical analysis, no ability to see a complex situation from multiple perspectives, no objectivity. All there is to support “Sarah’s” indignation and fury is knee-jerk emotion and pre-digested platitudes. She is typical of the average member of the public who has never been trained in logic or ethics, doesn’t understand why that’s a handicap, and who allows their lizard brain to guide them through life, making society and the culture a mine field for the rest of us.

I didn’t get into the ethics field to help people like Sarah, because people like Sarah are too far gone to help. I’m an ethicist to try to help people, and their kids, and anyone they may have an influence upon, to avoid becoming like her. When you can’t think any clearer than Sarah, you are incompetent at life, and others will suffer.

Here is Sarah Bradley’s Comment of the Day, on the post, The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama: Continue reading

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? Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies'”


Does the truth matter?

No, that wasn’t a typo: Karl Penny just achieved a first for Ethics Alarms, a Comment of the Day in response to a Comment of the Day.

The COD at issue was Gary’s assertion that he had no obligation to align his ethical preferences according to my analysis (or any other) of the “Ina Garten rejects Make A Wish” dispute, and that to him it was “just a story” that he could use or ignore according to what he chose to believe.

This inspired Karl’s excellent Comment of the Day, which also contains one passage that would justify another Ethics Alarms first, an Ethics Quote of the Week in a Comment of the Day on a Comment of the Day. I bolded it. Thanks, Karl: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies”

He's young, sick, and poor. His mother must be right, then.

Gary, an occasional commenter, grabs the Comment of the Day with a provocative one on a post from quite a while back. To refresh your memory, a sick child named Enzo Pereda asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation to get him a one-on-one cooking experience with “The Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten. Garten refused, and the boy’s mother led an online shaming exercise, condemning Garten, encouraging boycotts of her Food Channel show, and launching other bloggers and media on an anti-Ina rampage. Ethics Alarms’ verdict was that the boy’s mother was engaged in compassion bullying, demanding that this cable celebrity do her child’s bidding, alter her own schedule and priorities, and grant her son’s arbitrary “wish” because he happened to be ill. Garten had no obligation whatsoever to do what someone, or even everyone, might consider a kind act, and the one who was acting unethically was Enzo’s mother.

Gary’s comment goes to the heart of what Ethics Alarms is all about. Here is his Comment of the Day on “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies.”  I’ll have some additional comments at the end: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies…”

Today’s Comment of the Day needs some background. The first comment regarding yesterday’s controversial post “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies…”, asserting the right of a celebrity to decline a sick child’s request, was by reader Nancy Simpson, who wrote…

“Obviously we have different beliefs about what constitutes “ethics”. The first duty of all persons in a civilized society is to care for the children. My ethics say that for the optimum function of society, we care for children unless what they ask for will cause physical or emotional harm to them.

“Short of confinement in a leprosy ward, this woman has no excuse for her unkindness to a child. If the “too busy” excuse is true, then she is just greedy. No law against being greedy, is there? She has no duty to be concerned with anything other than her money.

“The other place we have ethical differences is that it against my ethics to criticize control and blame a sick child’s mother. Talk about hit below the belt. Shame on you.

“Celebrities are not mandated to give back–they may bite the hand that feeds them any time they like. And I decide who gets my hard earned money, and it will not be her or Food Network.

“I don’t pay people who hurt children.’

I was, I admit, rather severe with Nancy, writing in response…

“No, Nancy, you are completely wrong. Obviously we do have a different understanding or ethics, because you have very little and you also didn’t really read or think about the post. If a stranger walks in your home and demands that you care for her child, are you ethically required to do it? What gives “Make A Wish” or Enzo, his mother or anyone the right to finger this one woman because he happens to watch her show and put her in the position of either having to make a major effort to please him—not cure him, not actually make him well, but just give him a good time—at the threat of being condemned by self-righteous uninvolved bystanders like you? Ridiculous.

“Maybe she had a brother with the same disease and spent years in therapy trying to conquer the depression his death caused…and the prospect of getting close with Enzo risks her long term mental health. Does her refusal pass your approval process then, or is she obligated to harm herself because a stranger’s child has a “wish”? How can you judge her actions when you have no idea what motivates her? Granting these things is usually a PR bonanza….I doubt her motivations are crass at all.

“Maybe she is especially emotional around sick children. You have no basis to criticize her. She is not Enzo’s slave, she is not his doctor, she is not his plaything. She has a right to say “no.” There is a difference between exemplary ethics, and ethics. It would be great if she decided to grant his request, but it is not unethical not to. I know—you don’t understand. Well, you can revel in your ignorance without telling me that I don’t understand.

“I DO have basis to criticize Enzo’s mother, and I hereby throw your silly “shame!” through your window.

“She set out to harm a woman who owed her nothing. She sicced the internet on someone for pure revenge. I sympathize with her, but her actions were unarguably wrong. If you think certain classes of people like “mothers of sick children” get special passes to act badly and harm others, go start a Cindy Sheehan fan club—you don’t have a clue what ethics are.

‘You know what rationalizations and excuses are, however.”

Now, today, new reader Yao added a very provocative Comment of the Day: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies…”

Commenter Marlene Cohn has some well-reasoned insight on the issue of a celebrity’s obligation to comply with a sick child’s wishes. Here is her comment on The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: an Ethics Drama:

“I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip just as much as anyone, and always find internet reactions to perceived celebrity slights to be fascinating. Having been on the internet far longer than the hoards willing to throw around the dreaded “c” word, I’ve been able to see a true shift in what people generally expect of others. Continue reading

The Barefoot Contessa and the Compassion Bullies: An Ethics Drama


A boy named Enzo Pereda, now 6, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009. The Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what his wish would be, and he said he wanted to meet the Food Network’s Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa,” and watch her cook from his bed. Enzo’s wish was relayed to Garten through the Foundation, but she declined, saying that her schedule was too busy with a book tour. Enzo opted to wait. The request was made again this year, and Garten’s refusal was final and unconditional. Enzo’s mother, who has catalogued his illness in a blog called “Angels for Enzo,” was furious, writing: Continue reading