Saturday, September 19, 2009

Honest Moral Question

Today I was put into a sticky moral situation. A man offered to take something huge out to my car for me, then told me he shouldn't have done it because he'd just beaten cancer and his doctor ordered him not to lift things, then he asked me for a light. My car has a lighter -- I don't know what to do with the thing so I said, "Sure, if you know how to use it."

So I was partially responsible for 2 health-endangering actions of this man. Was I an accessory to an illicit moral action?

Allow me an erudite excuse for my first faux pas: Because of the sequence of events, invincible ignorance of his health status eradicated my culpability for allowing him to lift the heavy item... that's not what I'm worried about [i.e. I didn't and couldn't know he had just beaten cancer when I allowed him to lift the thing, so I'm morally excused for that].

What I'm concerned about is, was giving him a light akin to giving an alcoholic a drink? This is different than asking the straightforward question, "is smoking a sin?" The circumstances are changed by his bout with cancer, making it more likely that this is even more harmful to him.

Here I thought I was doing a kind deed, and I may have contributed to sending a man to his early death.


Jen and Eric said...

Hmmm... I can see how this is sticky! Yet, the way I see it... here is a guy who clearly wanted to smoke, had cigarettes on his person, and was taking steps to attain a light. If you hadn't provided one, I'm sure he would have gotten one someplace else. Cigarette lighters are at every drug store and gas station. For your part... You did nothing to entice him to smoke, you did not provide the cigarette, and you did not even help him light the cigarette. Given the kind deed he had just done for you, it would have been awkward to turn down his simple request.

Besdies, this guy clearly sounds like someone who is not interested in following the doctor's orders even if he *knows* it could hurt his health. Yes, years may very well be taken off his life... but it won't be because you let him use your lighter! It'll be because he probably smokes *regularly* and *often* disregards his doctor's orders.

And, by the way, I'm not sure why it's necessarily "wrong" to do things which may harm our health. We all have to line up our priorities & decide what is worth risking our longevity for. I wouldn't risk mine for a smoke... but perhaps I just took a few days off my own life by the totally unnecessary bowl of ice cream I just ate...! (Yum!)

Cecilia said...

My, Angele, this is a good one! I'm not much of a moral philosopher, but I find this interesting.
So, I'm assuming you didn't know what KIND of cancer it was (you make no mention). Doesn't mean it was lung cancer. Now regardless, smoking isn't great for you on any plane really, but it may be that his doctor did not forbid him specifically from smoking. All doctors can do is strongly advise, really. I don't think following their orders or not is a strictly moral issue (after all, sometimes it is very morally RIGHT not to follow a doctor's recommendation, and indeed it would be wrong TO follow them). So since you really don't know how badly "addicted" this fellow was, or even if he was at all, I think allowing him the use of your lighter was fine. I mean, i'm sure it's a shoddy argument, but you probably didn't have all the mitigating information about him for this situation either. Maybe he just wanted one smoke, the way you and I would enjoy one glass of wine. Neither are good in excess, but probably morally neutral with casual use.

bakerstreetrider said...

If the guy beat cancer despite smoking, you giving him a light isn't going to do any harm. Heck, maybe the cigarettes kept his morale so high that it helped him to beat it. :-) Maybe you are helping him keep the cancer away.

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