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How far would you go to respect someone else's beliefs?

  1. Aug 11, 2003 #1


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    Putting aside for now the moral relativism vs moral absolutism arguement, since moral absolutism is at the very least not clearly defined, most people will choose to respect other people's beliefs even if they don't agree. So how far does this go?

    This example is the perfect hypothetical (actually, I have two), but its real:

    I work for a small company. My boss met a few of his employees through word of mouth and he's had several that belong to the same Christian extremist religion. I'm not exactly sure what its called, but it doesn't matter. The core of their beliefs is essentially fatalism: you put your entire faith in God to direct the path of your life. Now this has several implications such as meaning you can't plan for the future in any way - no bank account, insurance, investments, etc. But the one that really concerns me is that you can't ever get any medical treatment of any kind. And when I say none, I really mean none: this includes band-aids.

    So here's the situation: One of my boss's employess before I started working for him collapsed one morning in the office just before lunchtime. After a while, his relatives came and carried him away and he died a day or so later.

    "Respecting their beliefs" in this case meant not calling an ambulance. Now we can't know if medical treatment could have saved the guy since we don't know how he died, but could you have sat and watched someone die without at least trying SOMETHING? Would you have called an ambulance?

    Second sitution. I came back from lunch today and one of my coworkers left suddenly: his sister just died in childbirth this morning. She was 26. Statistically, its pretty rare these days for women to die in childbirth, but thats because the vast majority give birth in hospitals.

    Now our legal system is pretty clear on this - if she had been 17 and died in a preventable way, her parents would now be in jail. It happens about once a year in Philly that some parents go to jail for not taking positive action to save their child's life (legall, prayer is not considered positive action).

    So what do you guys think? If you found yourself in a situtation where you would ordinarily call an ambulance for someone, knowing their beliefs, would you do it? Would you give first aid? Perform CPR? Or watch them die?

    My boss says he would (and he has) just watched them die. I don't think I could sit by and not do something.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2003 #2
    Ouch. Well socially speaking, I think the social majority overrules the minority. And beliefs are contingent upon not harming others. Responsibility indirectly, is as bad as direct. If you know someone's going to kill someone else, and you let them without doing anything, you go to jail. It's involuntary manslaughter, or at best aiding and abetting. I remember reading a story about these "cultists" or this faith, if you will. They were somewhere in oregon, and they were letting thier children die because they were refusing to render medical treatment in any circumstance, choosing instead to leave it in the hands of God.

    Of course if it is the wish of the person dying to do this, there's not much you can do, as long as it's legally documented. It's called a DNR, or Do Not Resucitate order. It's common in medicine for people with terminal illnesses who do not want to be sustained indefinitely if it means being in a great deal of pain, or in a vegetative state. And the doctors are prevented from saving thier lives. So if they have something along those lines, then they are covered. Of course you can't be held responsible if you save thier life and you don't know about the document. Personally I'd save them and suffer the consequences rather than let someone die, but then it's not my job on the line either:wink:
  4. Aug 11, 2003 #3
    I honestly cant think of anything coherent to say about this. If I do, I'll get back to you.
  5. Aug 12, 2003 #4
    So for some people religion really IS POISON...
  6. Aug 12, 2003 #5
    When I first read it russ I thought wow now there's a really difficult situation. But then I realised that the hypothetical situation that you have suggested is exactly the same in principle with the argument used by those who say woman can kill a fetus because it's their body. Isn't that what the pro-abortionists say? I didn't mean to turn this into another abortion debate but it is exactly the same logic. Time and time again I have heard woman say "It's my body, I can do what I want with it." Well isn't that the same here with your example. If someone makes it clear to you that they do not want medical treatment under any circumstances who am I to ignore their request. In fact wouldn't it be assault if I did? I have interfered with their body contrary to their wishes, that's criminal assault.
  7. Aug 12, 2003 #6
    I have to say that the abortion example is a little different. One has to decide whether the fetus is a part of the womans body, or a seperate, living being.

    In the case of this, I can only reccomend trying to convince them (subtly) to allow you to call an ambulence or such. Perhaps get them to tell you exactly why they cannot have medical aid. Surely, if god wanted you to die, being taken to the hospital would not stop him.
  8. Aug 12, 2003 #7
    Yes, life and death. Without life there would be no death. In the case of abortion I would say nothing venured nothing gained. At least the soul (if a fetus has one) didn't develop to the maturity where it can experience the "depravity" of hell. So nothing lost in that sense either.

    However, if somebody was laying there dying, especially if it was at my house (or, in the case with the employer at work), I would have to say call an ambulance. Or would I? ... I would have to say yes, because I'm not responsible for another person's beliefs (although I may be able to sympathize with them), and would just assume not be held accountable for what would otherwise be construed as negligence on my part.

    I think if I was the employer, I would make it very clear, that we must abide by the rules -- at least in this instance -- otherwise don't bother to show up for work. Of course if I held similar views, that may be another story?
  9. Aug 12, 2003 #8
    Screw other people's beliefs!

    Then again, I'm all about personal freedom: you wanna die, knock yourself out.
  10. Aug 12, 2003 #9

    Another God

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    Absolutely. Natural Selection at its best. If these fools think God is controlling their lives to that great an extent, then let their vengeful god wipe em all out.

    OK, so thats a little harsh, But still, i don;t see why I should interfere with someone else wanting to let their life end. Even if a friend of mine wanted to commit suicide, I would try to talk them out of it (for selfish reasons), and then I woul dprobably kick and scream and beg them to change their mind (for selfish reasons), but in the end, if they stuck by it, sure, i'd let them kill themselves.

    I don't see why I should be able to stop other people killing themselves. Surely the control we have over our own lives is absolute in at least that one sense.

    When I read the question in the title though, my planned answer was going to be: "I would go as far as challenging every facet of someone elses beliefs to show my respect to them."
    -The unexamined life isn't worth living.
    The unexamined belief isn't worth believing.
  11. Aug 12, 2003 #10
    While I may not have put it so colorfully, I have to agree. We have to stop using the law to play 'mommy and daddy' to grown adults, just because we don't like the decisions they make. People should be able to make their own decisions. As long as those decisions don't directly impact another, then they are welcome to it. I would say that this only applies to adults deemed sane and rational.
  12. Aug 12, 2003 #11
    As if that wasn't a whole new can of worms!
  13. Aug 12, 2003 #12
    No kidding!
  14. Aug 12, 2003 #13


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    Yes, considering that the way we judge people as to whether they are sane and rational again goes all the way back to the idea of the nanny state.

    (BTW Laser Eyes, the difference in the abortion case is the fetus doesn't have any beliefs that "must be respected" yet, as far as all evidence shows. They lack that which makes the person - the mind.)
  15. Aug 12, 2003 #14


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    I agree with you on the principle, but clearly it is still a matter of debate. In any case it is to me irrelevant: in the case I'm talking about there is only one person and one set of rights to consider.

    More later, but I've been thinking about this a lot now and I came up with an even worse hypothetical:

    Suppose I'm in a car accident with my coworker. He gets knocked out and badly cut on his leg. I can't imagine that if I saw him bleeding to death I would even hesitate to apply a tourniquet. But what happens when he wakes up? Or if his family gets to him before the paramedics do? Now they have to decide if they should go with their beliefs, remove the tourniquet, and let him bleed to death.
  16. Aug 12, 2003 #15
    I would save their lives, and then
    swear on a stack of bibles I had
    no control over having done it:
    God made me do it. I don't sup-
    pose they're allowed to refuse
    help from someone whose on a mis-
    sion from God are they?
  17. Aug 12, 2003 #16


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    I think you may have missunderstood the point LaserEyes was making. Either that or I have! I don't believe the rights of the fetus were being included in the example. Rather it was a refference to the position held by those who do not consider the fetus to be a person or have rights. In that case, there is as you put it, "only one person and one set of rights to consider". To those who hold this view, the one person has every right to do whatever she wants with her own body. So I suppose the question would be,"is that only true for abortion cases, or is it a general rule?".

    Perhaps the greatest value of this question is to determine whether we are making judgements based on the rights of an individual (both people have the right to do whatever they want with their body) or based on our dissagreement with someone else's religious beliefs (abortion is OK because religious people oppose it; death by natural causes is wrong because religious people support it). If there is a discrepency between the two situations, it should be examined, there might be usefull information in it.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2003
  18. Aug 13, 2003 #17
    Thank you LURCH. Yes, that is indeed the point I was making.
  19. Aug 13, 2003 #18


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    Actually, I think you understood his point but missed mine. My "only one person and one set of rights to consider" statement was not referring to the abortion case. Maybe my coworker's sister being pregnant is confusing the issue, but thats not part of the case - the baby survived and the mother died AFTERWARDS. The only issue is how to deal with the mother and her rights re: not getting medical treatment for herself.
    Ugh, yet another complexity. Your point is well made. I would be giving my coworker medical treatment based on my beliefs: "God made me do it" certainly would be a reasonable way to describe it. But that just makes the issue tougher for him when he wakes up: by removing the tourniquet (damn French and their damn hard to spell words) would he be undoing God's work? Of course since he doesn't agree with my faith, he may well consider it to be the devil's work. How does he differentiate between the two?
  20. Aug 13, 2003 #19
    I would be willing to go as far as possible to suspect someone else's beliefs, then do what I thought was right.
  21. Aug 13, 2003 #20


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    Yes, I got that. But what I think LE was trying to say is that, from the "pro-choice" view, the dicission as to whether or not abortion is acceptable is a decission involving only one person and one set of rights, and this makes it identical to the decission made by certain of your co-workers. If this view is correct, then there should be no difference between the decision to abort a pregnancy and the decision to refuse medical attention. Based on this perspective the conclusion is always reached (in the abortion debate) that the choice is strictly up to the individual, she has the right to do whatever she wants with her own body. So doesn't that also demand that, in the case of refusing medical attention (say, for the worker with the heart trouble), the same conclusion must also be reached; that the choice is strictly up to that individual, and that he has the right to do whatever he wants with his own body? Or, if the two cases are different, how/why do they differ? (I can think of one possible way, but would like to hear someone else's ideas first)

    I think that was the point, anyway.

    But another question that I hope will do more to clear the issue than to muddy it up: how far do you think your co-workers or boss would go to respect your beliefs? I mean, if you suddenly fell unconscious to the floor and stopped breathing, would their beliefs permit them to call for emergency medical attention for you? Or at least try the Heimlich maneuver? It is one thing for them to be willing to die for their beliefs. IMO, it is quite another thing for them to decide that you must die for their beliefs!
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