The Queen vs Dudley and Stephens (1884) (The Lifeboat Case) Harvard Case Solution & Analysis

The Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens (1884) (The Lifeboat Case)

Short overview of the case

            Four shipwrecked passengers were struggling for their survival in a lifeboat after their ship sank. The survival was exceedingly difficult and soon they were left with nothing to eat. They went hungry for many days but when they couldn’t last any longer, two of these men in order to curb their hunger decided to kill a young boy who was also with them in the life boat.The fourth person opposed the decision of killing the young innocent boy but the effort went futile. Now, as the boat reached the shore these people were arrested and presented in front of the court for murder. These two men tried to justify that they had killed the boybecause it was their last chance for survival rather than a murder attempt.  Their basis of justification was that there were no other alternatives available to save themselves and therefore that why they had decided to kill the weaker one so as the rest of the passengers could survive. Additionally the two murderers said that the boy who was killed was quite ill and was about to dieanyway; therefore they killed him.


List the values in your case. Define them? What are these values? Examples: integrity, truthfulness, loyalty, dishonest... etc.

The opinions may vary. One could support thisact or one could go against it. One can easily justify the act of Dudley and Stephens which can be viewed as a necessary sacrifice for thegreater good or good for more people. On one side there isalready a half-dead boy, and on the other hand there are three peoplewho can save themselves (by killing and consuming the ill-fated boy). To save more,less can be sacrificed, this concept of maximization total good and reduction of total suffering is generally known as Utilitarianism. Commonly, this principle of morality is considered selfish, dishonest and hypocritical; Dudley and Stephens would not have opted to have themselves killed for sacrifice had they been in place of the Parker. Though utility was achieved by murdering or (from Dudley and Stephens perspective) sacrificing Parker, there are other humanitarian values as well other than utility such as justice, freedom etc. (Katherine, 1999).One can easily see that these are violated by the actions of Dudley and Stephens. Furthermore, both of them didn’t show any honesty, devotion orloyalty towards the young boy. It is arguable that their sense of utility is highly subjective, hence favoring only for themselves; as it is possible that the murdered boy has a family, perhaps some siblings, uncles and cousins, news of being killed and then cannibalized by the fellow passengers could be devastating.Also Dudley and Stephens have considerably smaller family, which again goes against the greater good anyway. Considering the broader implication of utility, it is questionable that why the young boy was selected? It is the fact that he was feeling ill due to lack of supplies and malnutrition, but he could have been offered a chance to liveby killing the most senior one among all, and consuming the senior most instead. By applying the Consequentialism moral principle, which states that the ethics of an action depends upon its consequence, putting the weaker in suffering for the benefit of the stronger is not ethically justified, as there are several cases in history where the majority persecuted minority or abused their rights, leading to endless suffering for the weaker ones. Moreover, it is questionable that where is the passion to survive? They could have tried their best to catch the fishes or other marine creatures instead of resorting to opportunistic cannibalism. Respect towards human life and its importance can be challenged here because this can only be justified in terms of self-defense (self-defense being only correct/justifiable form of murder) and it cannot be justified in terms of ignoring the moral value towards the human life for satisfying necessities.

Identification of the ethical issues in the case

Thereiscertain issue which needs to bring into consideration before the final decision. First is that when the idea of sacrificing someone was presented, why that “someone” is not consulted, in this eventParker, was not consulted or asked for his opinion. Earlier Dudley presented an idea of drawing lots: one person was to be chosen so that he can be sacrificed for the survival of others. Brooks raised serious concerns about drawing lots and the idea was rejected, the idea was never presented to Parker. On the same day (24th July) Dudley presented an idea of murdering Parker; presenting the same opposed idea for the second time, again reflects the intention to kill. One of the biggest ethical issues was that Dudley and Stephen went to Parker and told him that he had....................

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