An Ethical Delimma


This hasn’t happened, but it’s a real possibility.  In working through all the permutations of how this may turn out, I’ve contemplated this scenario.

Back story:  My wife and I have several pets, one of which is a parking lot rescue kitten we named Nora.  She was nursed back to health and became a petite young adult.  My wife loves that kitty.  We have a kitty door that allows the cats to go out at will, but not back in.  We have the inward swing locked so that they must come to the human door, where we have the opportunity to ensure they aren’t bringing the back half of a kill into the house.  They do that.

We live in a rural area.  We don’t fence or chain our dogs or cats.  They are free.  They are sentient beings and they choose to live with us.  We are vicariously free through them.

Freedom has risk.  Owls and coyotes are a threat to small animals.

Anyway, Nora went missing about a week ago.  I used to be really upset when a loved pet was gone for a day or more, but over time I came to accept that they roam.  I’ve had cats be gone for three weeks only to come back dragging, tired, filthy, hungry, thirsty, and acting like it’s no big deal.  Then they sleep for a few days and all is normal.

The cat is not back yet, and I’m resolved to not start carving a headstone for a few more weeks, but as time passes, I am anticipating the need.

So what if I were to go in to the tool shed and find the cat dead from heat and dehydration?  It’s possible that I or someone else went to get the axe, she came in unnoticed, and she was shut in when the door was closed.  (That didn’t happen, I checked, but it could have)  It would be horrible for several reasons:  One of us would have caused the death, the mice would have consumed part of the body, and the maggots would be having a feast.  Ugly.  Not ugly just because of the state of the corpse, but because of the knowledge of the suffering that the animal surely endured.

Dilemma:  Should I tell my wife what happened or not?

If I shared what I know, I imagine there would be some long lasting guilt for the person who did it and some long lasting resentment toward the person who did it.  Both are painful.  For both parties.

If I didn’t share what I know, I would be keeping a secret.  I would have to scoop up the corpse and dispose of it, in secret.  My wife would continue to call for her several times a day, fruitlessly,  for a few more weeks.  The unresolved would be painful for her, and the secret would be painful for me.

This question touches on the topic of  what we value and how we rank the conflicting values that we have.  I want to spare myself and others of emotional pain, but I also want to be honest… because dishonesty frequenty results in emotional pain.

Honestly, I had to think about it, but i know what I would do.  What would you do?

Why?

Categories: Ethics, Philosophy

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