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Monday, December 19, 2005

Is it morally wrong

to steal from the dead? I recently participated in an online survey that presents questions to determine how people would respond to specific ethically-challenging situations ( At the end of the questionnaire you are presented with your responses to 2 situations at a time and asked why you selected a different response in one case versus another.
Two of the questions I was asked were quite similar in that they involved the exchange of 1 life for 5 (or the other way around). However, there was a particular addition in one of the cases that changed my response from allowing the 1 for 5 trade-0ff to not allowing it; in the second case, in order to save the 5, not only would the 1 have to die, but his organs would be used to allow the 5 to keep on living. This is in contrast from the first scenario in which the doctor would simply have to ignore the 1, let him die, and treat the other 5 and have them live. Nowhere in the question does it state that he is asked if it is ok for his organs to be distributed (for neither he, nor the 5, know that their lives are in this life-for-life predicament).
So my question to you: Are humans owed any moral preference post-life? By this I mean, can we steal from the dead? And for that matter, can we do anything we would consider "unethical" to a living human, to a dead one? I imagine this could have an effect on the question of when a human actually gains moral standing (as is the case in the pro-life pro-choice debate) and when he would lose any ethical gain that a "living human" status would provide.
I hope I stated my question clearly. I'm still learning the ins and outs of proper philosophical etiquite.


Blogger jes said...

Doug Portmore over at ASU has done work on this, if you are interested. Anyway, here is my take on the issue: Presumably, morally impermissible acts are impermissible because they cause some sort of harm. They violate something, be it a right or total utility. But, if the world consists of just you and the dead guy, and we don't have to deal with family members being hurt or any such nonsense, I can't imagine the act would be impermissible. Who are you hurting if you steal from the dead? Not the dead guy, that's for sure. I suppose there may be some sort of argument that taking things you aren't entitled to hurts you, but you can't be immoral to yourself, since moral behavior guides actions between people, not oneself (unless you get something like God involved). So yeah, ummm... no, I don't think so.

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Blogger PennyPengo said...

My $0.02 is that some things are just universals. honesty, ethics, morality. They do not need reasons or justifications to exist or be adhered to. The discussion seems to try to justify situational ethics.

I took the tests..and the problem with tests like these is they never really offer the correct answers as options. I think that the real answer to all of sacrificing one for the good of the many is that under NO circumstances is it morally or ethically acceptable to do this. BUT it is the best and unfortunately the only option between two really crappy ones. And in these cases..the chooser will have to live with the emotional consequences of their actions. In order to save 5 people they will have willfully murdered another person. It is NEVER morally or ethically acceptable to kill someone, or through inaction allow someone to be killed. This of course is not to be confused with trying to help them and failing.

So, in terms of stealing from the is NEVER ok to take something that does not belong to you. In such a case as a dead person in a house with food and water in a situation where food and water are scarce...and your survival depends on it, the thing to do is take the food, but that situation does not make the breaking into the house and stealing of the food "right" or morally and ethically acceptable.


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Blogger Stephen said...

The question “can we steal from the dead?” naturally assumes that we have someone to pose such a question to, which in and of itself may not be so. Even so, taking the question at face value I’d think that the answer is a very easy yes (after all – dead guys can’t grab and likewise won’t say much). It’d be relatively easy for any of us to dig in and take the organs of the unsuspecting deceased. In terms of “moral preference” to/in the post life, I’d challenge anyone to bring up an instance where a deceased person/thing has ever complained about having something like their organs taken away without consent (assuming there are no ghosts, evil curses, etc). The next question (as posed in the original blog) may be why we couldn’t do this to the living, in which case a quick response would be that the living would put up a fight (which, I believe, is what separates living from nonliving – the fact that there is some sort of fight to stay alive or continue existing). For this reason, taking anything (including organs) from the deceased is fundamentally different from taking such (or anything) from the living because the deceased have nothing to lose or fight for.

On a different note, should I (or anyone else) be morally obliged to not take, for example, the organs of a deceased without their prior consent? I really don’t think so. The big selling point here is that the “living” have a reason to be upset whereas the dead do not. Does this mean I condone any and all acts pertaining to the displacement and/or other disembodiment of the deceased? Not really (personally, I’d still have a problem with people “sleeping with the dead,” among other things). Rather, my argument lies in the fact that the dead will NEVER care about what is done to them. It is their conglomerates who, as a prerequisite to having a voice, are alive to give any kind of objection. Other than that, the deceased would never know the difference.

Nonetheless, I think everyone is going to have to deal with their own moral grounding in terms of whether it’s right or wrong to take from the dead.

Can we steal from the dead? Yes. When, how, and in what situations is the real issue.

7:41 PM  
Blogger PennyPengo said...

I disagree..its an ethical absolute. its never ok to steal no matter who you are stealing from.

12:57 AM  
Blogger mel mel said...

NEVER say never! :)

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