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In the article “Tragic Choices”, Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to convey the message that when we find ourselves in a moral dilemma, we make certain choices, which are not morally right. A moral dilemma occurs when you find yourself in a complex situation, where you have to make a choice between moral imperatives and obeying one automatically leads to transgressing the other. The author does this by giving examples of situations where tragic decisions have been made.
He gives an example of Marten Hartwell, a pilot, who crashed in the Northwest Territories and was the only survivor. He did not receive immediate rescue, and due to hunger the pilot had to make a tragic decision, else he would have died. He, therefore, decided to feast on his companion’s body, a nurse who had died in the tragedy. We all know that morally, it is not right to feast on a fellow human being. On the other hand, we all would have chosen to survive other than die of hunger. Basing on Emmanuel Kant’s view that actions are done simply because they are right, Marten Hartwell action was, therefore, wrong. However, he had to do that for his survival, or else, he would have died of hunger before the rescuers came for his rescue.
The author further gives yet another example of a team that was climbing Mount Everest and a man named Harsh happened to slip, where he fell and was suspended upside down in an ice field. It was difficult to go and rescue Harsh and the chances of rescuing him alive were minimal. His companions, on discovering where dangerous it was to rescue him, decided to leave him suspended rather than try to save him and risk their lives as well.
In his article, Patrick Fitzgerald gives another example of two mountain climbers who were climbing the Alps, roped together. One of them slipped and fell down in a way that he could not have been lifted back. The companion had no other choice than to cut the rope else he would not have survived as well. He further gives another moral dilemma of three sailors and a cabin boy, whose boat drifted thousand miles from the land and they stayed without food or drink for some days. Seeing that they would die of hunger, two of the sailors suggested that they would sacrifice the cabin boy for them to get food for their survival. The boy was killed and they survived on his blood and flesh for three days when they were rescued. Had they not done that, they would all have died. When the three men were taken to court, they justified their action by saying that their action was out of necessity but the judge argued that necessity cannot be defense and the three were charged with murder.
In yet another example, a ship that was carrying a cargo of goods was overtaken by a storm and it was feared that all aboard would be drowned. The captain ordered that some of the cargo be thrown overboard since the boat was already sinking low in the water. The boat was, therefore, able to survive the storm after throwing part of the cargo overboard. In this case, necessity was considered in that, it was necessary to save the lives of human beings by sacrificing the cargo.
The author’s stand is that the choices made by people who are faced with moral dilemmas are not necessarily justified. He is trying to say that these choices cause suffering to others and that is why he refers to them as “tragic choices”. In his own view, the law should always be applied in deciding whether such decisions were right or not. Like in the case of the cabin boy, the author believes that the boy did not deserve to be sacrificed for the three men to survive with the reason that the boy did not have a family to take care of.
The author’s position is, however, not clear, because he does not give suggestions regarding what people should do when faced with such situations. It would have been of great importance, if Patrick Fitzgerald gave solutions to such dilemmas. For example, in the case of the two mountain climbers, who were roped together and one happened to slip, according to my view, the companion did the right thing by cutting the rope and saving his life. It would not have been wise to remain suspended on the rope since eventually the two would have died. According to my own view, it would be better to mourn one death other than mourning two deaths.
The author wants the readers to learn that in situations of moral dilemma, whichever course taken will lead to transgressing the other. Therefore, whichever decision made will be termed as a “tragic choice”. In his argument he asks, “in the case of the three sailors and a cabin boy, if one had to be sacrificed, had it to be the seventeen year old boy?” Here, he is trying to tell us that all human beings are important and equal before the eyes of God and that sacrificing one would have been a sin. In addition, if they all decided not to sacrifice one of them, they would all have died- another tragic choice.
This article is trying to tell the readers that they should not always try to console themselves when a tragedy happens to them. He declares that there is a need to submit an application of justice. According to him, morality and justice should go hand in hand. He, however, agrees that some actions may be immoral, when they are not illegal. For example, prostitution is legal in some countries but in the real sense, it is immoral based on the standards of morality. To preserve one’s life should indeed be a duty, and we should not sacrifice our fellow human beings for our own lives and law should be applied in such situations to decide on the innocence of individuals who survive at the expense of others.
The author goes further to question whether the judges’ decision to sentence the two sailors, Dudley and Stephens, was justified. In my opinion, he wants also to show that the judges make some tragic decisions. Through prerogative of mercy, however, the two prisoners were sentenced to life imprisonment, but were later released after six months. The author still wonders whether the two prisoners deserved the prerogative of mercy and whether they deserved to be released that soon after the judges’ decision.
The author also does not agree with some decisions like the one made by a British soldier, who killed several German soldiers, by killing one soldier daily. After going back to Germany, the soldier resumed his flying duties and was highly ranked and honored greatly. This took place after the Second World War. The author believes that there should be laws and rules to limit enemy killings during the war and that such a person should face the law. Instead, this pilot was not charged with murder, yet he killed so many people.
Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to condemn some of these choices made by people just because they are in a better position to make decisions. This is because they end up not considering the minority who could be disadvantaged, weak or even young. He wants people to try to make some wiser decisions and to consider their companions, who are human beings as well. He does not support killing of fellow human beings. To do this, he gives some very clear examples to support his position and to condemn such acts.