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Regina Vs. Dudley and Stephens

  1. Mar 11, 2008 #1
    I'm sure that many of you know this case, because although it is a bit old it is rather famous.

    Here is my question. Were Dudley and Stephens guilty of murder? Should they have been convicted?

    If you have not read or heard of this case, you can find the full text http://www.justis.com/titles/iclr_bqb14040.html" [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2008 #2


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    There are two types of "guilt" involved here- legal guilt and moral guilt. I note from the text that Dudley and Stevens originally considered casting lots to decide who would agree to die in order that the other two would not starve to death in their lifeboat. IF that had been what actually happened, and the third person (apparently a minor boy) had agreed to it- even after his lot came up, there might be some leeway to argue that the men were not morally guilty. (The fact that the deceased was a minor would still give me pause.)

    However, that did not happen. According to the text, Dudley and Stevens simply decided to kill the boy without the "bother" of lots. I don't see how there can be any question that killing a person, even to save others, without his agreement, can not be considered "guilty".

    As far as "legal guilt" is concerned, that's a "no-brainer". The judge stated clearly that under British law, where this was tried, killing another person, with their agreement or not, is murder. Given that, and the fact that they admitted the facts in the case, they were legally guilty.
  4. Mar 11, 2008 #3
    Halls, the boy was the most weakened of the survivors and it is said he wouldn't have lived much longer anyways. His sacrifice, albeit not consensual, seems to have been the most reasonable.
  5. Mar 12, 2008 #4
    Clearly illegal.

    Even euthanasia is still illegal in most places.
    This is not a case of self-defense, killing an innocent is not defensible, at least with regards to British common law. And it was clearly premeditated. They turned on the weakest member of the pack like a couple animals. Allowing the weak to be victimized is not what the law is about.

    As to whether its moral. Well, thats entirely subjective. I'm sure some people could find a way to rationalize it. Personally, I find it pretty despicable. And I wouldn't be trusting a person like that to walk the streets either.
  6. Mar 12, 2008 #5
    Guilty by law. You are only allowed to kill in self defense if someone is directly threatening your life. The boy was not threatening anyone, the situation was.

    Morality is a personal thing, a feeling. I don't think trying to define an objective morality is a meaningful activity.

  7. Mar 13, 2008 #6
    I agree with your reasoning, Halls.

    As far as this goes, I suppose in that light it would like the most reasonable. However, consider this:

    The men did not know how long they would be trapped at sea, and they had been without food for several days. If you are going to look at it in terms of logic, wouldn't a full grown man have served their purposes better?
  8. Mar 13, 2008 #7
    Another side note for those who did not read the article/further readers. The jury DID convict Dudley and Stephens, to life in Prison. However, there was such a public outcry against this that the Queen later commuted their sentence.
  9. Mar 13, 2008 #8
    The argument here is not over whether or not the boy constituted the best available meal. The boy would have died in any case. Using him as lunch does not alter his fate, but does alter the fate of the other seamen, albeit temporarily. Had they chosen not to eat at all, they would have all starved to death, had they chosen to sacrifice another man, the casualties would have been twice as large - with the boy dying anyways-, given that the vessel which rescued them arrives at the same time in all scenarios.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2008
  10. Mar 13, 2008 #9
    Which they had no way of knowing at the time.
    The fact it turned out well for them, doesn't change what they did.
    You can imply ends justify means, but supporting that, is another thing.

    They clearly broke the law. They killed someone weak and innocent for personal gain.
    The fact they had a good PR team that gained public sympathy doesn't really figure into the facts either.
    Whether one thinks they are justified or not.
    They were not living by a moral standard here, they simply gave into a survival instinct.
  11. Mar 13, 2008 #10
    They obviously broke the law, because the law is a rigid set of rules that rarely takes into account context.

    The whole issue here resides on whether they could have lasted until the boy's natural death.
  12. Mar 13, 2008 #11
    Not it isn't. It is against the morality in many societies, people, to take innocent life, even to save one's own. This may be your only concern, but its hardly the limit of the conversation.
  13. Mar 13, 2008 #12
    I think survival, especially survival of as many as possible, is of higher order than morals. Morals were created to serve survival - when they conflict, it is morals which need to be step aside.
  14. Mar 13, 2008 #13


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    Thats one of the 'shake them up' questions you ask medical students.
    How do you ration drugs / treatments depending on quality of life.
    In that case is it right to kill a healthy young jogger so you can use his organs to save 5 lives
  15. Mar 13, 2008 #14
    The basis of any moral code are subjective values. One can make arguments within the context of a moral code, and talk about ethics. But when you get down to the essentials its completely arbitrary.
  16. Mar 13, 2008 #15
    Precisely. It doesn't matter which moral code was at play here because survival coupled with reason dictated that the boy should die. These two things precede morals. Is it immoral to kill the boy, under the moral code adhered to by Englishmen of the time? Yes. But, objectively, something immoral - no matter the moral code at hand - should only be condemned when it does not conflict with necessity.
  17. Mar 13, 2008 #16
    This is simply your morality. Entirely subjective. Others with disagree survival trumps respect for life.
  18. Mar 13, 2008 #17
    That's because they're standing behind a monitor, in the comfort of their homes.
  19. Mar 13, 2008 #18
    What about the necessities of the boy? And one also must consider that Brookes made an entirely different moral judgement; he dissented.
  20. Mar 13, 2008 #19
    Wouldn't it have been more logical to only feed on a portion of the weakest?

    I'm sure a finger... a hand... or even an arm would have kept them going another day or so.

    I'm not being sarcastic or impractical here, although it may seem that way. I would have given up an arm if I knew they were going to kill me. Seems to me that much of what they say as food would have gone to waste anyways.

    I'm sorry, I haven't read the report at all... so my views might be a product of misinformation. But when you're life is in jeopardy, you will always turn to the most basic of survival instincts, which in my mind are always justified. It all comes down to survival of the fittest.
  21. Mar 13, 2008 #20
    You're not?
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