My favorite advice columnist, innate ethicist Carolyn Hax, courageously and wisely addressed an ethics problem that is the equivalent of squaring the circle or finding the end of pi. The question posed by a commenter:
My mother says she will not tell me who my father is and will take the secret to the grave with her. Is there ever any good reason for not telling someone who their father is?
This is not merely a difficult question but also a portal question leading us to a myriad of specific ethics dilemmas. Hax offers a few, some of which aren’t very good:
- If she doesn’t know for sure herself.
Well, of course: also if she can’t communicate due to her mouth being sewn shut, her arms amputated, she never learned Morse Code and it lousy at charades.]
- If he committed crimes so heinous that she fears they would change the way you see yourself.
- If he was and is still married to her sister, cousin, best friend.
Or if the mother is the father…?
- If revealing his name would reveal something embarrassing about her or her past choices or the circumstances of your birth.
Nope. Embarrassment about the truth is not a valid reason for withholding it from someone who has a legitimate and justified reason to know it.
- If she promised him she would take the secret of his identity to her grave.
Too bad: that’s never a good reason. A commitment to the dead does not, can not and must not have priority over obligations to the living. That’s an unethical promise; the daughter cannot be ethically made to suffer for it.
If he’s a sperm donor and she thinks there’s something wrong with admitting that.
- The mother thinking it’s a good reason isn’t the same as it being a good reason. Come on, Carolyn.
My favorite is if the father is Satan, and the mother wants her daughter to have as normal and happy a life as possible until the inevitable day when Dad calls on her to assume her destiny as the DARK EMPRESS OF THE DAMNED! Continue reading