Friday, February 27, 2009

Answer to the Ethical Dilemma...

This is my Answer to the Ethical Dilemma posed on Friday February 27, 2009.

I repeat the question:

I watched the film The Mosquito Coast last night. It starred a really young and attractive Harrison Ford. The plot briefly put is the story of Allie Fox, a brilliant inventor, who takes his family to the jungles of Equador because he believes America is failing and is about to destroy itself in a nuclear war.

He builds a very successful settlement in the jungle with the help of the natives. He invents a huge machine that makes ice. He believes ice is the basis of civilization because it cools, acts as an anti-inflammatory, fever reducer, and makes life generally more pleasant.

When 3 white men with rifles come upon the settlement and refuse to leave, Fox, in order to get rid of them, gives them a place to sleep inside the ice machine and fires up the machine while they are sleeping. His plan is to freeze them to death but the men wake up, begin firing their rifles, thus causing the machine to explode. The 3 men are of course killed and Fox and his family barely get away with their lives.

The ethical dilemma that occurred to me was

Is Fox guilty of murder?

First here's a definition of premeditated murder (in U.S.):

Premeditated murder is the crime of wrongfully causing the death of another human being (also known as murder) after rationally considering the timing or method of doing so, in order to either increase the likelihood of success, or to evade detection or apprehension.[1] State laws in the United States vary as to definitions of "premeditation." In some U.S. states, premeditation may be construed as taking place mere seconds before the murder.

Premeditated murder is usually defined as one of the most serious forms of homicide, and is punished more severely than manslaughter or other types of murder - usually with the death penalty or a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"Premeditated murder" was first brought into use in the 1963 trial of Mark Richardson, in which he was found guilty of murdering his wife Cindy Cleave. Richardson had plotted his wife's murder for three years from the time that they were married. He was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In the U.S, there is no Federal offense of premeditated murder.

Most people who left a comment believed Fox committed premeditated murder or had intent.

According to Wikipedia, MURDER as defined in common law countries, is the unlawful killing of another human being with intent (or malice aforethought), and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide.

One of the commenters suggested that Fox was acting in self-defense because he was trying to insure the safety of his family. This is what Travis responded:

"I believe the question is, does fear of a possible threat against one's own personal safety or the safety of one's community and family justify a pre-emptive strike against the source of the perceived threat.

My answer to that question has to be no.

The clear intent in the movie was to do murder to remove the perceived threat. I think that the ethical course of action was to defend the community against the threat, and react to violence rather than initiate violence.

Fox is guilty of pre-meditated murder.

Here's a definition of self-defense:

A person claiming self-defense must prove at trial that the self-defense was justified. Generally a person may use reasonable force when it appears reasonably necessary to prevent an impending injury. A person using force in self-defense should use only so much force as is required to repel the attack. Nondeadly force can be used to repel either a nondeadly attack or a deadly attack. Deadly force may be used to fend off an attacker who is using deadly force but may not be used to repel an attacker who is not using deadly force.

In some cases, before using force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to the aggressor, a person who is under attack should attempt to retreat or escape, but only if an exit is reasonably possible. Courts have held, however, that a person is not required to flee from his own home, the fenced ground surrounding the home, his place of business, or his automobile.

Can Fox's actions be called self-defense? No, probably not. As Travis said you cannot respond with deadly force because of a perceived threat. At no time did the 3 men attack, threaten, or put their hands on any one in the settlement. But they did carry rifles...

I think it might be interesting to point out that in the United States right now the following bill is being considered by the House:

The Citizens' Self-Defense Act of 2009 (HR 17) is being considered by Congress right now - It declares that a person not prohibited under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act from receiving a firearm shall have the right to obtain firearms for security and to use firearms in defense of: (1) self or family against a reasonably perceived threat of imminent and unlawful infliction of serious bodily injury; (2) self or family in the course of the commission by another person of a violent felony against the person or a member of the person's family; and (3) the person's home in the course of the commission of a felony by another person.

Is a reasonably perceived threat of imminent and unlawful infliction of serious bodily harm allowed to be made in the case of the Foxes because the men carried rifles? I don't know for sure. Was there anything else the Foxes could have done?



Kay said...

Having not seen the movie I have to wonder how common rifle carrying is/was.

And again, having not seen it, I don't know if they had another viable option, but I tend to think so.

The note about the proposed law is interesting Mary, I will have to do more research before I weigh in on it.

Thanks for the follow up :)

/adds movie to Netflix.

Queen-Size funny bone said...

Armed and dangerous are bulletins put out to police departments everyday. In this country carrying a gun is a threat to another otherwise police wouldn't get away with shooting so many so called bad guys right?

♥ Kathy said...

I think carrying a firearm of any type is threatening. Even on a police officer. There's always that thought in your mind that they could shoot you even if the intent to shoot you is not openly obvious.

Raven said...

Interesting conversation. I think it's premeditated murder. Not having seen the movie, it's hard to have a sense of the nature of the threat or perceived threat, but it seems that with a whole village of people there might have been some way short of murder to neutralize the villains.

Gattina said...

I can't comment on this the only thing which surprised me was Wikipedia's definition of murder ! There is no unlawful killing. Killing shouldn't be "law" ! there are only 4 countries left in the world where death penality is still actual : People's Republic of China, India, United States and Indonesia. In Europe it doesn't exist anymore since the 2nd world war.

Travis said...

Cowboys on cattle drives in the old west carried side arms and rifles. The weapons were used against threats to the herd, such as snakes or wolves or coyotes and such. They would have carried them into a frontier or prairie town and not been seen as threats.

It's not the act of carrying a weapon that presents the threat of unprovoked violence. It is the intent of the person carrying the weapon.

I can't know the intent of the person, I can only infer based on his actions. The person may have a menacing demeanor, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the person will do violence to me. And my fear of the possibility doesn't empower me to strike pre-emptively.

So I would say that Fox had the right and responsibility to prepare a defense if he was afraid of the men.

Excellent discussion Mary.