Wednesday, August 22, 2012

a question of ethics.

One of my required classes for my bachelor's degree was ethics.  While I found it fascinating, I also found it frustrating.  I'm a person who is often desperate for "the right answer".  Yet, I am far too curious to accept some things without understanding why.  I am also passionate about understanding the other side of the story.  This is enlightening, but also frustrating because I often see at least some points of merit on the other side. 

This was my experience with ethics.  I foolishly thought I would learn about various ethical theories and then instantly find the 'right' one.  Utilitarianism?  Consequentialism?  Cultural Relativism?  Authoritarianism? Invariably, I would begin to study a particular school of ethical thinking as though I was walking down a new path.  It would look great...for a while.  Then, somewhere, a twisty turn would come and a murky swamp would appear.  "Well," I'd think, "that was a good walk...but I don't believe in THAT!"

I soon came to realize that there was no true, right and perfect answer.

This entry, therefore, will be too deep and dark and complicated for some of you.  However, I hope that those who make their living thrashing others will take some time to digest.

Consider this ethical argument:

A homeless man enters an emergency room, having been run over by a car.  He has sustained a massive head injury.  The medical doctor on call sees him and recognizes him as a homeless man. He has treated this man before, and knows that he is younger and otherwise in good health. If this doctor does not begin treatment soon, this man will likely die.  However, because he is in otherwise good health and may be brain dead already, it is possible that his organs could save a half-dozen people.

This doctor is bound by a code of ethics that tells him he should first, do no harm.  He is not planning to harm the patient - the patient is already harmed. He could potentially help many other people in this process, including children.  Even if this doctor is able to save this homeless man, this man's quality of life will be dismal.  He has no family to care for him.  He will be holed up in a state run institution for the rest of his life.

Understand - first and foremost - that there is truly no "correct" answer to this question.

Say that to yourself.  Understand that.  Digest that.  BELIEVE that.  There is no objective, truly "right" answer to this dilemma.

Stop thinking there is.  There isn't.  NO, there isn't. 

What can be ascertained is what system of ethics YOU use. And if that works for you, then it is right for you.

If you are an authoritarian, you will say that the law says the homeless man is entitled to care.  Period.  It doesn't matter about anything else. It is what the law says. We follow the law because it is right and Good.  Whether this law comes from spiritual means (such as the Bible, etc) or from government, we follow the law.  This homeless man should be tended to because the Law says he is entitled.  Whatever the result of that is irrelevant. 

Understand, of course, that we humans are often under conflicting sets of laws.  We are under the laws of the country we live in, and we may also espouse "laws" from our spiritual beliefs.  It is up to us to decide which law takes precedence. 

Don't worry - we're going to turn this to adoption in just a

If you are an authoritarian, then the Law says that this man must be cared for, regardless of anything else.  If he can help more people through his organ donation, it doesn't matter. If his life will be horrendous afterwards - should he survive - it doesn't matter.  What matters is the law.  If the law says that a photograph of an orphan should not be shared, it doesn't matter why or what that means.  The consequences are irrelevant.  It is important to follow the Law, because the Law is right and Good.

(Told ya I'd get there.)

There are laws in places far away that prevent the sharing of photographs of children available for adoption.  There are some who, believing the Law is Good and Right for Law's sake (and never really asking WHY) attempt to harrass and interrupt those who share photographs like this.  They are not wrong. In some countries - really and truly - it isn't okay to share these photos and it isn't okay to go to those countries with a pre-identified child in mind.  I know it often happens, but it isn't right by the letter of the law. (Bulgaria's process, like China's, is different with respect to registered waiting children, before anyone goes off on some ridiculous tangent).

Some hold the law of God above all law.  In that case, orphans should be shared because the Law of God demands that orphans find homes. And since this Law is above all other Laws, and it is good because it Is, then we follow that too.

But let's get back to our critically ill homeless man.  Maybe our Dear Doctor isn't an authoritarian.  Maybe he doesn't believe that the Law is Good for the Law's sake.  Maybe he espouses a belief similar to Mills, (famous Utilitarian) whose morals say, in part, that if the greatest good to the most people is served, then the Act is morally just.  This is an ends-justify-the-means argument, and there are MANY variations in ethics by many esteemed scholars. 

This man is one man, but his organs could save a half dozen people.  Maybe more.  Children could be helped.  (You can change this to mirror other ethicists by saying, rather than the "greatest number" of people, perhaps the "highest good" to be achieved, etc  This is the beginning's of Immanuel Kant's arguments, among others).  In that way, the doctor would have to call the transplant team, knowing that this one man will save many times more than that.  Children and others will live because of his kidneys, his liver, his heart, and his tissues.  The end (helping many) justifies the means.

No one - NO ONE - can argue that special needs adoption is enhanced by photographs.  NO ONE can reasonably argue that.  The charities, the adoption agencies - anyone who is involved in orphan care or poverty assistance knows this.  Why are there so many child-sponsoring companies out there?  Why do they attach you with "a child" with a face, a picture, and a story?  Why does the ASPCA want to send you a photograph of an animal that's "in our shelter right now?"  Don't deny that it works.  Just...don't. It's an unwinnable argument, with far too much evidence to compel anyone to believe otherwise.  Period.

Those who advocate, who share photographs, do so because helping children (the end - which is Good) is greater than the Law (which prohibits such practice).  There is ample evidence to suggest that seeing a waiting child leads more children to be helped.  Our critically ill homeless man may require intervention because that is what the Law says, but the greater good (helping more people through organ donation) is met by NOT intervening.  Therefore, those who espouse a system of ethics that provides for the "greater good" principles share photographs and advocate for orphans - not because they truly believe they are following the law 100% - but because they believe that the goal of helping a child find a family is a greater good. 

And, you guessed it, they aren't entirely wrong.

"But there are LAWS that we MUST follow," you protest.  "This is why I have a blog that actively calls out these families.  This is why I spend countless hours of my life data mining and sending letters and all of this.  These people are not following the law.  They must be stopped."

Following the laws of our country, or any country, is good.  Helping more people is also good.  Helping children is good. 

If I want to adopt, and I used antidepressant medication sometime in my past, but qualify to adopt otherwise, and I find a child who is in need of a home, is it wrong to lie about my antidepressant usage to help that child?

"Lying is wrong and the laws of [insert country] prohibit antidepressant usage, so even if that means the child will never find a family, you cannot deceive."

"If you are otherwise healthy, it is okay not to mention the use of antidepressants, because the greater good [the child finding a home] is served by ignoring a law that doesn't take into consideration a host of modifiers.  Good families should not be excluded for needy children by man-made laws that ultimately serve to stand in the way of a child being in a family."

Chances are, one of those statements is going to ring with more truth than the other. Chances are, you will read one statement and think the other statement is wrong.  (It's not.  Not empirically, anyway.)

You want to know what the point is?  I'll tell you.

Whatever your view about photolistings, preidentified children...waiting children...whatever you want to call it, know that they are yours They are not universal.  I do not care if you point to the laws of Russia or Ukraine.  I don't care if you point to the over 14,000 children who have found homes from photolisting sites.  Following laws is Good, and children who need homes and getting them is Good too.  Now what?  Who's right?  I know...I are going to say that YOU are right.  Funny how that works.

As some of us sit here, penning long diatribes (or being a spineless troll) against those who are trying to raise awareness of special need orphan issues, the central issue is being lost. I don't believe that adoption is THE solution, but I believe that it is A solution.  It is a solution to a here-and-now problem that won't be helped by dropping bags of money on poor, unsuspecting denizens. This is the view of the adoption-haters; poverty is the problem and money is the sole solution. Oh, and do it now, and don't worry about the current orphans...because we really don't have a solution to those children, and anyway, I'm sure their biological families will just line up like it's Powerball when the bags of money fall from the sky.

Okay. Um...NO.

The problem of orphans is comprehensive and challenging.  It is not solved by adoption and it is not solved by adoption-haters.  As we sit and point fingers at who should have what picture where and whether or not "violating" the civil rights of a child in a foreign country is "better" than letting them twist in the wind, we are losing sight of the main issues.  We are applying our ethical view to a problem that has no concrete, 100% ethical "right" answer.  We are arguing over whether Jif or Skippy is a better peanut butter (when we all know it's Peter Pan - come on! LOL) when we don't even have any bread available to make a sandwich.

This isn't a complete treatment on the subject, and it isn't the end of this, but it's something to think about.  And if I made you hungry for PB&J, so much the better. :)


  1. AMEN! You stated it perfectly. I'm so tired of trolls wasting time "telling" and "interrupting". Maybe spend some time getting outbthere and fundraise and head over on a plane and HELP those kids....

  2. This is a great post! Thank you for articulating so well what has been in my heart. If we all spent more time working toward solutions and less time tearing each other down (on all sides of the adoption issue, or any issue) we would be much more effective in changing the world for the better. On the subject of special needs adoption, as you already know, it is often more of an issue of the availability of treatments and support services in the child's home country than anything else. Please keep bringing these issues to light in your level-headed, well written way!

  3. Great post! You are so right that adoption is a complex issue. There are no easy answers. Hopefully, some day adoption will be less needed, but until then we need to save them one at a time. We are just beginning our journey. Thanks for writing this post


Kind comments are welcomed. Poorly researched, ill-informed, horrifically biased comments are exploded. :)