Thursday, August 30, 2007

A philosophical aside

This has nothing to do with anything else, it's a purely philosophical musing, but it was prompted by the story about Dr. Pou so it seemed reasonable to include it here.

First, you should know that her jeopardy is not over: She still faces civil lawsuits brought by relatives of patients who died. She says she did administer morphine and a sedative but insists that she did not intend any harm; it was palliative.

Okay, read the interview, consider the situation, consider the condition of the patients. Then consider this:

There was an episode of ST:TOS called "The Conscience of the King." A man known to history as Kodos the Executioner, who executed (painlessly, but still executed) 4000 residents of a starving planet to save the rest, is now hiding from his past as Karidian, the leader of a traveling Shakespearean acting troupe. Kirk is suspicious of him and presses him on his possible connection to Kodos.

At one point, Karidian asks Kirk "What would history have said about Kodos if the relief ship had not arrived months ahead of schedule?" Kirk says it doesn't matter because history has made its judgment, but the question about desperate actions in desperate circumstances does linger.

Just suppose for the sake of the thought, just suppose, that Dr. Pou did commit mercy killings of very sick, suffering patients who had little hope of surviving long enough to be evacuated. Does our judgment about her moral guilt (we're not talking legal guilt here) vary with whether or not it ultimately turned out they could have been evacuated in time? Why or why not?

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