problematic. Are those commandments
intended to be the basis of our law? We
could argue that “Thou shalt not kill” or
“Thou shalt not steal” are good laws; we
don’t want thieves and murderers wandering around. But what about the one
that commands us to “Honor our father
and mother”? Should this be the law cited
in the courtroom when a child has been
beaten and abused by a drunken parent?
In Charles Dickens’ time that might have
been the case. Ethics then were absolute.
The “law” was not to be broken. Punishment was ever present. Or what about
the one, “Thou shalt not covet (desire)”?
Have we not built an entire advertising
industry on the concept of covetousness?
I see my neighbor’s BMW and want it.
That’s what marketing is all about!
When teaching ethics I used to use the
example of Mrs. Throgmorton, head of
the local Anti-Child Abuse Society. She
was in the grocery store one day, in line
behind the mother of a two-year-old.
They approached the cash register where
the store had placed all sorts of candy
and other goodies right at the eye level of
children in the grocery cart. Like all children, Junior grabbed, and Mother took
it from him saying, “No, no, Johnnie, we
can’t afford that!” Johnnie screamed, “I
WANT IT!” and grabbed again. Mother
again grabbed it from him, and slapped
his hand, making Johnnie scream.
“Child abuse!” shouted Mrs. Throg-
morton, demanding that the manager,
who came running, call the police and
have Mother arrested for abusing and
striking her child. She could not be dis-
suaded, insisting that the police be called
to the scene. The manager tried to con-
vince her otherwise, but her sense of eth-
ics said the rules had been violated and
Mother should be punished. So the police
arrived. They, too, could not convince
Mrs. Throgmorton to relent. So the child
welfare department came and agreed to
look into Mother’s home situation. Even-
tually the court dismissed any charges
against Mother, and Mrs. Throgmorton
was incensed at the outcome. It was un-
ethical on the part of the court, she com-
plained to the press. Then Mother sued
her and her Anti-Abuse Society for false
arrest, malicious prosecution and defa-
mation of character.
What were the ethics of this situation?
Was Mrs. Throgmorton correct that this
was child abuse, or was Mother — who
really could not afford the candy — sim-
ply disciplining her child? Was the store
being unethical by placing candy at the
check-out counter where they knew it
would be at eye-level with the child?
Was the manager unethical by allowing a
build-up at the check-out counter without
opening another counter? Should the po-
lice have allowed the child welfare depart-
ment to press charges? Was it unethical
for Mother to sue the Anti-Abuse Society?
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