Moral and ethical issues
In the case of the Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, there were several moral and ethical issues. I will explain them in this section using facts from Prof Michael Sandel’s video, the cited case, and a book titled “Cannibalism and common law: a Victorian yachting tragedy” by Alfred Bryan William Simpson.
First, on the 23th of July, Dudley first suggested that ‘someone’ should be sacrificed to save the other 3. That ‘someone’ referred to the Richard Parker and he was not consulted. Why? Although Brooks rejected the idea and no actions were followed up, it marked the start of an intention to kill.
Second, on the 24th of July, Dudley proposed to Stephens and Brooks that lots should be cast on who to be put to death to save the rest, but Brooks refused to consent, and it was not put to Parker, that there was no drawing of lots. Why was the idea that casting of lots not be proposed to Parker since I assumed he would be among the lot casted if there was indeed a casting of lots.
Third, on the same day, Dudley proposed again that it would be better to kill Parker and save the others should there be no vessel sighted the following morning. It was Parker’s life who was at stake at that point and yet again he had no idea that someone was planning to take his life. Does this not count as murder?
Fourth, Dudley, with the assent of Stephens, went to Parker, told him that his time has come, put a knife into his throat and killed him. The boy was not unable to make any resistance nor did he ever assent to his being killed. This seems like a clear case of taking someone’s life for the survival of 3 other men. Another ethical issue was cannibalism, which I will discuss later. The last issue was why Parker, and not the other three, killed and fed on. Why was Parker chosen? What if Dudley, Stephens or Brooks was killed and fed on instead? There was nothing stating that Parker would have still died if he had fed on someone else. Recognising these moral and ethical issues will allow me to evaluate alternative actions better later. However, recognising these issues is not enough. Were there other factors that let them to act in such ways? To answer the question above, first I need to know who are the stakeholders and their interests on 23 July, 1884, 2 days before the killing of Richard Parker.
Stakeholders and Interests
For this section, imagine I am Captain Dudley. The date is 23rd of July, 1884.
To illustrate a clearer picture on what could be on the minds of my 3 crewmen and I; I shall identify and state what could have been their interest. Edward Stephens, 37, an able-bodied seaman who has 23 years of sailing experience and has a wife and 5 children, the youngest only a year old and the only son of a seaman back in England. Edmund Brooks, 38, another able-bodied seaman is the most experienced with 26 years of yachting and claimed to be a “bachelor”. Richard Parker, 17, an orphan, is an inexperience seaman. He lived with his foster parents, has 3 brothers and a sister, all working. Having drank a considerable quantity of seawater, he suffered from diarrhoea (which would dehydrate him still further) and lay on a corner of the boat comatose. I, Thomas Dudley, well, am the captain of the just-sank British ship Mignonette, has 3 young children aged 2, 3 and 4.
Besides the primary interest of food, water and help, we got other interests. Naturally, the desperation of going home to our families lies the greatest on Stephens and I. Brooks, though without a wife, could presumably have his parents at home. Parker, being an orphan and now extremely weak, had no responsibility whatsoever.
My men and I have gone without food for 7 days and 5 days without water. We have been drinking our urine since finishing the turtle. If we continue waiting for a passing vessel, we might just die of famine. Having no fishing equipment on board and...