Is it right to sacrifice the one to save the many?
A long going debate and interesting question that I found in the news today. Well, that isn’t what the news story said but its what I got from the story. I have linked the story at the bottom of this blog but if you click it now it will spoil my fun. Here is a scenario:
Image yourself as a trade worker. You are skilled in woodcarving and have devoted your entire life to this trade. This trade has been in your family for generations and higher education was never a priority because this trade was your life. Everyone in your family treats and cares for wood, you are new to this country and are trying to live the American dream. You have high hopes and dreams. This is your life. The wood you make your livelihood off, is processed in your shop and transported to make stairs and fine furniture. You are content and happy despite being poor.You have your own business and you see the possibility to make your dreams come true.
One day someone comes to your shop and tells you that your wood is making people ill with a weird virus, we will call this virus WB. You had heard of the illnesses but you have not been ill ever. You think the locals are trying to make it your fault because you are poor and an immigrant. You are told by officials to stop working. Your shop is taken from you! They try to convince you that by taking your shop and your entire livelihood away, they are helping you.
How can that be? How can they think you are making people sick when you have never been sick? The whole idea is ridiculous and just plain discriminatory behavior.
You suck it up because discrimination is a part of life. You move on to a different area and try to restart you life. Slowly but surely, you piece back together your dreams. You are so poor and hungry and have a family to take care of but you are determined to make your dreams come true.
A while passes and you think maybe things will be ok. The discrimination seems to be not so bad in your new area and hope is rekindled in your heart. You take a job working with wood again. Its not your own shop like before but you are relieved to have the wood back in your life. Like an old friend coming home, working with wood again is joyful.
Life is good for a while but then it happens again. People start getting sick and everyone is asking why? You are scared because you think they will blame you again. Surely they won’t it isn’t even your shop! You go on with life hoping everything will work out.
Then the government comes and takes you away from everyone. Your family and friends can’t reach you. You are alone. They are blaming you again. It wasn’t even your shop this time. They are crazy and discriminatory. They force you to give blood and other bodily fluids. They violate you and tell you everything is your fault. You know the truth though. You know they hate you because you are not from here; you are a poor immigrant so they make you their scapegoat. They lock you away for the rest of your life and you die alone and violated.
Horrible story! It could never happen right? It totally did happen to Typhoid Mary. This is an example of what her side of the story would have felt like. People tend to forget that she was an uneducated, poor Irish woman that lived in a time of discrimination. She never believed she was the cause of the illness and her hygiene was normal for the era. Germs, disease and all the other things that are prevented by hand washing as well as some vaccines were discovered because of her case. Recently, they published a new article about Typhoid Mary and the comments were awful. People really had no clue as to her plight or how her life has inspired ethical debates for more than 100 years.
I have pondered this question for years and still to this day I have no idea what would be ethical. The government sacrificed Mary to save hundreds of people. Was it the right thing to do? Probably. Was it ethical? Well, that is debatable.
This is the news article:
Authors Note: It has been brought to my attention (as if I didn’t know) That Mary Mallon was a cook. I know that! I used woodcarving in my metaphor because it is a well known fact that illness and germs are spread through food but in Mary’s time it was not. I also used a different disease (a fake one). In our times there is not a widely known example of a disease spread from wood. To me, it helped illustrate her perspective.
Here is a short You Tube Video that shows a little bit about Mary Mallon:
What do you think?