Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Subjective discussion about principle Human Rights

Without a doubt the most significant right a person has is the right to life. This phrase ‘right to life’ is commonly used in abortion arguments, however, I use it in its most literal sense. The most compelling dilemma a person or group will ever have to face is the killing vs. letting die distinction. This principle has been discussed from human rights philosophers like John Locke—a social contract theorist, whom (deriving and departing from the Hobbesian view of nature) argued that legitimacy in government is gained through protected natural rights (life, liberty, etc.)—to Immanuel Kant and his discussion of human freedom in Critique of Pure Reason. With a seemingly failed attempt at war in the Middle East, exponential warfare technology, and cases of genocide, the discussion of this most basic—yet fundamental—human right is ever more important.
To show the killing vs. letting die distinction and its severe compelling ability I use the following model.
Situation 1: You are between two ponds. In pond ‘X’ there are 5 people drowning. You do not know any of these people. In pond ‘Y’ there are 10 people drowning. You do not know any of these people. Neither pond can swim. You can only save one group of people. Which do you choose? (Hold your answer for now).
Situation 2: You are riding on a train. At the end of the track there is a pond with 10 people drowning. In the middle of the train track there is a person holding the tracks together above a small canyon. You can both stop the train and save that one person holding together the tracks while the 10 people drown or you can kill him and save the 10 people drowning. Which do you choose?
It seems as if situation 1 most people would choose to save the 10 people over the 5. If only because it is more people saved and less life lost. Situation 1 seems easier to answer because in that instance the actor (you) are not killing the 5 people, but you are letting them die. Situation 2, however, is much more difficult because in order to save the 10 lives the actor must kill someone. Obviously, there is a person would experience a dilemma because his or her direct actions would kill someone.
This raises the question of when is it morally acceptable to kill or let die? What if by killing 10 people we could save 100’s or even 1,000’s? Remember the Burundi Civil War between the Hutu and Tutsi, there was no humanitarian intervention there, governments were merely just ‘letting people die’ they weren’t killing them. Some political critics believed that since the Clinton administration had lost 7-10 Green Berets—highly elite Army units—in Sudan that any more losses due to humanitarian intervention would case a domestic backlash. Remember the Kosovo conflict between the Albanians and Serbs; part of NATO’s justification for intervention was on humanitarian grounds that by killing they could ‘save more lives than were lost’. Granted, it has been debated that NATO’s intervention was so that NATO could expand their powers and possibly increase its member base, but they told the world that they were intervening on a humanitarian base, to save lives by killing.
The killing vs. letting die distinction is integrated within domestic and foreign policy. It is apparent in decisions in war and office. Perhaps, we can understand the loss of life better if we use this rational model to unveil people’s decisions to kill or let die? I’d like to know what you all think.


zain said...

Very interesting, remember a restless U.S. President who wanted to do a lot to stop the brutal massacre in Bosnia? President Clinton. Though he used Bosnia as a ploy to win over Bush Sr., he left no stone unturned to divert international attention to Bosnia crisis. Though people still criticize Clinton's policies in Bosnia, Pres. Clinton tried his level best to meet his promises. However, what Clinton did in Somalia was directly responsible for why U.S. turned a blind eye to Rwanda. The reason behind quoting all these facts is that foreign intervention, whether humanitarian or armed, is a very very complicated issue. From domestic issues to international actors, the foreign policy of a country is affected by a wide range of factors. It is an interplay of such factors that allows a government to determine if wants to kill 10, or if wants to let 100 die.

morgan marks said...

I remember in class last semester (Human Rights/Wrongs) when dealing with human rights and the Nazis the question arose - I think this is how it goes, for every 1 Nazi officer killed, 50 Jewish people would be shot - and we were asked if we would kill the 50 if we were a soldier. If we did not, we would most likely be shot - so if we did not kill, not only would we die, but we would be letting the 50 Jewish people die anyways. In that sense, I said I would rather shoot myself than have to kill the 50 Jewish people. What would you all do? In response to the blog though, I thought I would save the 10 first, and then kill the one to save the second ten. It is disturbing how the example is all numbers, yet that's how decisions are made. When is it ok to kill a few to save a thousand, and when is it ok to save 10 rather than save 5? Who knows if that one man that was killed could have changed the world ... It put the real questions and decisions our government makes into perspective, yet I don't think it is ever ok to let people die and not do something about it (even in the first example, who is to say those 5 people's lives aren't as important or more important than the 10). Whether that means going to the country in conflict and trying to resolve it, maybe people dying to restore peace is the way - even though I think there are many ways to resolve conflict other than killing.

John_Madden said...

In response to Morgan, asking what if questions like 'who knows if that one man that was killed could have changed the world' was not the purpose of the proposed debate. 'When is it ok to kill a few...' it is apparent in war theory, including jus in bello. Like I mentioned, it is a serious human dilemma. I am confused by what you mean by 'it is ever ok', 'it is ok' when talking about making decisions. Do you mean morality? Do you mean ethics? In the first example, I never said that the 5 lives were not as important or more important than the ten. I thought that everyone would assume that each one life is equal to another one life because I say, "you do not know any of these people". I guess I should have explained it further. I also never said it was 'ever ok to let people die' hence defining the situation as a compelling dilemma. The fact of the matter is, that I was trying to propose a rational debate of dealing with this section of ethics and morality. It would be idealistic and frankly irrational to think that humans can end war for good. As long as there is disagreement, conflict, and encounters there will be war, there will be death to make change. Thinking otherwise is to deny history, human behavior, and human psychology to name a few from the myriad of other reasons.

Snipe said...

In politics, some of these conflicts arise, but sadly they're used in very cruel ways. Sometimes the international aid of countries in war hold some responsibility for the people killed as well. I would like you to read about this, it happened years ago in my country. Who is responsible for it? The actual killers or the masterminds behind? and it shows the ways of thinking in a cruel war: to kill a few innocent people to get the enemy. Means for a cause?

As for the connection between the article and this post, is the fact that in case of the definition of right and wrong, when it comes to human life, there are objective ways to decide (i.e. I must save more people so its 10 the right option) but when you're actually involved, there's always a subjective thinking. There's no other way.

morgan marks said...

I guess my response would be, how can you not use morals to decide such a thing? John Madden, you said it was an example of ethics and morality - so if you're asking me to just, count the people and refer to them as numbers - then why wouldn't you save the 10 instead of the 5? If they're all the same. For me, there has to be that question of worth - and what ifs. Life is full of what ifs, and decision making, and weighing both sides. "As long as there is disagreement, conflict, and encounters there will be war, there will be death to make change. Thinking otherwise is to deny history, human behavior, and human psychology to name a few from the myriad of other reasons." You may be right... BUT I choose to believe that things can be resolved in other ways than war - and maybe we just haven't gotten it right yet. Human behavior may show that war is instinct and that humans are prone to conflict and disagreement, and the historical record may show that the past is littered with bloodshed and wars - BUT I want more, and I choose to believe that we can be better; we can be better for one another, and realize our interconnectedness.