3) Personal Beliefs vs. The Law (Double Standards in Ethics)
Scenario and Instructions:
Cynthia lies in a comatose state in the hospital. She is not brain dead, but she is in a persistent vegetative state that her doctors think will never improve. The doctors come to the decision that it is best to withdraw her fluids and nutrition. This will lead to Cynthia’s death in about a week.
John, Cynthia’s brother, is her only living relative and family. He believes that Cynthia should not be killed, passively or otherwise, and that starving her to death is murder. However, in this case, a court-appointed advocate has the power to make the decision. This advocate opts to follow the doctors’ advice.
John believes that it is obligatory for him to defend his sister, even if it means doing harm to others. On the basis of strongly held religious beliefs, John feels obligated to stop the killing of his sister, break US law, and use deadly force against any who would try to stop him. On the day that Cynthia is to be taken off of life support, John lets the medical staff see a gun in his belt, and he is able to abscond from the hospital with his sister because of the gun; no one dares to stop him. Later, he is able to sneak his sister across the border into Canada where he has arranged for her to be cared for indefinitely in a hospital. No one is hurt during these events and Canada gives them asylum, but Cynthia passes away naturally after a year.
(Note: answer the following question BEFORE reading the second scenario.)Question 1: Is John right to defend his sister with a gun? Are his religious rights being trampled by the laws in the USA? Or, is John wrong to think that his personal beliefs can supersede the law? Just give a quick opinion (no analysis is needed at this point).
Now consider a related scenario. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to get or perform abortions. Fatima is a citizen of Saudi Arabia and she is pregnant. She wishes to get an abortion. A sympathetic UNESCO worker named Julia hears of Fatima’s problem and shares her beliefs about abortion. She thinks that Fatima has a right to get the abortion and decides to help her. After failing to make things work through normal channels, Julia obtains a small pistol and takes Fatima to a remote border crossing. Although the gun is visible to the guard, he accepts a bribe and there is no violence. She then takes Fatima across the border into the United Arab Emirates where she has found a clinic that will perform the abortion. One week later, Fatima gets the abortion and begins a new life in the UAE. Neither of them can return to Saudi Arabia, but they do not mind.
Question 2: Are Fatima and Julia in the right to break Saudi laws? Are their human rights being trampled by the laws in Saudi Arabia? Are they wrong to think that their personal beliefs can supersede the law? Just give your opinion.
Question 3: Now, compare your answers to the first and second questions above. Don’t retroactively change your answers. Use this comparison to reveal whether or not you’re using principles consistently or if you’re applying double standards. Answer this question by sharing your thought processes and realizations. Be sure to mention the principles that you think influenced your decisions in both cases.
Question 4: Is it ever right (or obligatory) to break the law of your country? On what basis? (This time, use your ethical theories to analyze the question. You can go into depth on just one theory, or your can compare several theories.)
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