Friday, October 30, 2009

Hypo Man 1

Hello all. It's been a while.

Some of you have been to law school, and some of you are married to someone who has been to law school. You'll probably get where I'm coming from. For those of you with no experience to the weirdness that becomes of law students, allow me to explain a little bit. One of the biggest parts of law school is the hypothetical. Students read the cases, learn the laws of a certain area, and then (students or teachers) come up with some of the weirdest factual situations you could ever imagine to see how the law would apply according to those facts. Sometimes it's bizarre (think of frozen turkeys falling from an airplane in the sky and injuring people in a hotel's swimming pool); sometimes its morbid, which is what I'm going to present to you today.

Here's the deal. Law students, on average, are not as interesting as we think we are. (If you don't believe that the average law student thinks he or she is much more interesting than anyone else, just visit and read through some of the personal statements. It's a clinic in taking the ordinary and making it seem incredible.) So it basically comes down to this: I often grow tired of hearing what the not-as-interesting-as-advertised law student thinks (self included), and I want to know what you (i.e., the interesting reader) think.

Here you go. Fair warning, it might be slightly morbid. You have just been in a car accident and your car is at the bottom of a ravine in a river. You weren't wearing your seatbelt and were thrown from the car. Luckily you were uninjured, but your child was strapped in her car seat and is still in the car. You can see her, and the water is starting to slowly rise. She is starting to panic and struggle. The problem is that it is 100% certain you will not be able to reach your child before she dies, and if you try to get her it is 100% certain that you will die as well (you have a spouse and 4 other children at home, so you can't really kill yourself in an attempt to save her). Because you live in the ghetto you always have a gun, and you have a perfect shot. So your options are either (1) you can watch her drown (she will suffer), or (2) you can shoot her and kill her instantly (no suffering). There are no other options, and you are the only person around. What do you do? (Remember, it is certain that she will die either way and you can't do anything about it.)

If you said watch her drown, would your answer change if the car was not sinking, but instead it was on fire (meaning more suffering for a longer time)?

No matter what you answered, would it change if it were a stranger's child and you could see that the mother was already dead? (You were the only other person in the entire area, and you happened to witness the accident.)

Last one. If you were a juror in a case where a person had been charged with manslaughter for shooting the child in any of the situations above, would you vote to convict them? No to all three? Yes to all three? Yes to some no to some? Tell me what you think in the comments.

If the result is good, maybe I'll post more of these. If not, I'll just leave the blogging up to my wife. She's much better at it anyway.


Melanie said...

Yikes, this is definitely morbid! But I don't think I could actually shot my child or someone else's for that matter, so i might just watch my child die and want to be dead myself!
For the trial I don't think I could convict someone if that was the real reason they killed their child, to save them from suffering s terrible death!
Thats a tough question though, thoughts I don't want to have!

Douglas Family said...

What a horrible thing to study. The only good answer is to risk yourself to save the child. You cannot know under those circumstances that the child would die certainly if you were to help. Plus if you watched the child die, or shot the child to minimize suffering, how could you live with yourself. Forget law, so glad I am in Special ed (not that there aren't crazy laws associated with my field, but at least not morbid hypotheticals).

abbyjane said...

Sarah, you didn't obey the rules, you goof! going in after the child isn't an option.

I don't think I would shoot. I don't think I could, no matter how bad I wanted to. However, if on a jury, I wouldn't vote to convict the person who did decide to shoot.

If the child was a stranger, I still don't think I would shoot, but I don't think I would have the agony and angst that I would if it were my own child.

The greater the suffering before death of the child, the more likely I would be to shoot.

Garrett said...


For me, the question boils down to the level of responsibility for the parent. Which situation would the parent feel less responsible for: the cause of death or allowing of pain which will still end in death.

Automatically, the causing of death is worse because of the active role the parent assumes in ending the child's life. However, at a certain point, it seems that allowing a level of incomprehensible pain to continue becomes more of a moral injustice (albeit through the passive role of inaction) than shooting the child. And that point is where it gets interesting.

Here, the moral judgments become cloudy because it becomes more acceptable to murder your child rather than watch them suffer. Therefore, at a certain point it becomes acceptable to murder, even if it is a child.

That said, I don't think anyone could ever assume the active role and pull the trigger because it creates a level of responsibility in the parent that is inescapable. While allowing the child to die of 'natural' causes, the parent can somewhat still say there was nothing I could do and therefore escaping some shred of responsibility.

However, i would convict a person that did pull the trigger because they would have to have something wrong with them psychologically to accept the situation and assume that the child was dead regardless.

Sounds like a blast with your new program, keep the Q's coming.


Natalie said...

I would not shoot the child nor would I convict someone that did. This reminds me of when Adrian was in law school. Whenever we drove anywhere he would tell me the case and let me know try and figure out what the judge decided. Abby beware, you are going to start needing evidence to support anything you want in life. Have evidence = get your way. No evidence = lose every time. It's dealing with the mind of a lawyer. Good luck!

Jeff said...

Good posts so far. I'm actually pretty surprised. I guess this wasn't really a law question (well, the jury part is) but it was actually inspired by a crazy dream I had. Anyway, for me it wasn't even a question: I'm shooting. I know it would be awful, but knowing that I could relieve some of the suffering was enough to sway me. Where it would get interesting is when you remember that you have a spouse and other children, and by shooting you risk a conviction. But from what I've seen, most people (except the heartless Garrett :) ) wouldn't convict.

Some interesting points:

(1) On the legal side, I'm no lawyer, but I think in most cases the charge would be voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing, but it is different from murder in that there is some circumstance that not necessarily justifies the killing, but makes it less severe than a cold-hearted, planned, or reckless killing.

(2) For the people who have answered that they would shoot, I changed the circumstance a little bit and asked if they would shoot if they were in a cabin in the middle of absolutely nowhere, their child had terminal cancer and was in an extreme amount of pain, but was not coherent enough to communicate, and it was certain that the child would die in five days (i.e., you can't leave to get help because the child will die before you get back, and nobody is going to come to the cabin). Almost everyone who said that they would shoot in the case of drowning or fire said that they wouldn't shoot in the cabin case. The reason this was interesting to me is because the total suffering in the cabin case was MUCH higher than either of the other two, but for some reason people were more reluctant to shoot. Also, on the legal side, the person who shoots in the cabin would be much more likely to be convicted of murder than manslaughter. The difference between the two cases is that the person in the cabin has time to think about it, and, in a way, "premeditate."

Carolyn said...

Hi Jeff-

When I was in college I served on a jury for two weeks in a civil case. As I remember the judge gave us VERY clear instructions on how to determine our verdict. It was still hard to determine our verdict but we were very guided. For example-- in this case the jusge might say," If you find that the action of the defendent caused the death of the child, you must find...". We had to leave our emotions and what we 'thought' out of the decision and rely on fact. All this is to say that if the judge gave me instructions I would follow them. If the judge said, "do you think that the parent's action resulted in the same result that their inaction would have yielded? and if so you must find them..." then I would follow that instruction. It is my understanding that the law leaves less to feelings and emotions and more to concrete evidence/fact.

Now if I were in the situation I hope that I would have the courage to shoot. But, knowing myself, I would probably try to save the kid-- maybe not logical, but I'm a girl and emotions drive me-- and I don't think I'd be able to leave my child to die without doing everythig I could to try to save him/her, even if that meant dying in the process. And even if their was 100% assurane that the kid would die anyway.

Keep these questions coming-- I like exercising my brain :)

richard dandelion said...

Everything I need to know I learned from watching Steve McQueen and Mako in The Sand Pebbles.

Always shoot.

Soxy Pirate said...

You need to read "The Road".

Soxy Pirate said...

Oh, and to answer your questions: I choose all the right answers.

Douglas Family said...

Ok, so I still haven't learned to follow all directions, but I wouldn't ever shoot a child regardless of the circumstances. Maybe pray for mercy but not shoot! As far as conviction if they killed the child - regardless of the reason there must be a consequence. Depending on the reasoning, the consquence may be less severe. Is that better?

The Chases said...

It looks like if this were a multiple choice test question it would read like this:

A. let your child suffer and deal with the ramifications.

B. do not let your child suffer and deal with the ramifications.

I chose B... it seems pretty simple to me.

Now if I were the jury and the shooter could prove to me why they knew 100% there was no chance of survival but only suffering, there is no way I could charge them with murder.

Tanner said...

Honestly, I probably wouldn't even be smart enough to realize I had my gun with me and if I did I doubt I'd think to take the shot.

But for hypothetical's sake: Is CSI going to be able to prove I shot the kid after the accident and am not just covering up a murder? If I shoot do I go to jail and intensify the greif for the part of my family that is alive? When it comes down to it could I really shoot my own child? Sure, it seems like the logical move but I don't know that I'd do it. Then again I'm not a parent yet, maybe I'll understand better when I am.

Douglas Family said...

So I asked my hubby about this, yes it has been bothering me that much. He said he doesn't know how he would find the man if he were on the jury becuase he hasn't heard the defense or the special witnesses confirming if the child would have actually lived, etc. Isn't he just so smart! Yes I think certainly in this case I would need all the facts I could get to make a good decision.