Preventing a Harm by Doing a Harm

Consider a couple, Sam and Tracy.  Sam and Tracy have been together for a long time.  We could even imagine them being married if you’d like.  Lately, however, their relationship has been rocky and has slowly become unstable.  Whatever the details may be, Tracy is taking the initiative and trying to break the relationship.  Sam, however, has a history of depression and has had suicidal tendencies.  Sam tells Tracy that if the relationship ends, “I don’t know if I could move on.  I would seriously kill myself.”  Sam seems to be genuine in this proclamation.  I should note that Sam is not saying this as a threat or as a way to coerce Tracy to stay in this relationship.  Sam really would commit suicide if the relationship were to end.  Of course, Sam is getting help either through therapy or through medicinal means, but it is a slow recovery and the relationship is taking a huge toll on Tracy.  In fact, it is affecting Tracy’s health overall and Tracy cannot wait for Sam to be mentally stable.  Yet, Tracy does care for Sam as a person.  Tracy does not want to Sam to commit suicide or cause serious harm.  Thus, Tracy is torn.  On the one hand, staying in this relationship is not healthy and it is going to cause a strain to both of them individually and the relationship between them could get worse.  On the other hand, if Tracy initiates the relationship, then Sam would be so devastated that Sam would cause self-harm or even suicide.  Thus Tracy decides not to end the relationship. However, the relationship is taking a toll and Tracy wants to end the relationship. So if Tracy won’t end it, perhaps Sam will? Tracy decides that the best route is to somehow make it so that Sam would initiate ending the relationship.  But how?

One way is to convince Sam that the relationship is going to make everyone involved worse off.  This, however, is tricky because the information cannot come from Tracy directly.  After all, if Sam were to hear from Tracy that this is not a healthy relationship, Sam would interpret this as Tracy ending the relationship, which gets back to our initial problem.  Perhaps if Tracy could convince one of Sam’s friends or one of Sam’s relatives that this isn’t healthy.  However, unless somehow one of Sam’s friend or Sam’s relatives is so in tune to the relationship, the friend or relative may interpret this message as Tracy wanting to end the relationship.  In which case, the friend or relative could give the message to Sam that Tracy is wanting to end the relationship and Sam may be even more agitated because the message did not directly come from Sam.  So unless the friend or relative is in tune with Sam’s health, this plan may not fully work.

The other plan is make Sam not enjoy the relationship by either seeing many problems with the relationship itself, or seeing that being with Tracy is not a good option.  And so Tracy does certain actions that would be interpreted as not investing into the relationship. Tracy would also ghost, ice, or simmer away from the relationship. In other words, Tracy neglects Sam and does not put any investment into the relationship.  As time goes on, Sam feels that Tracy is drifting away and not putting much into this relationship. Of course, Tracy’s strategy is slow going, but eventually Sam would start to see that this relationship may be taken for granted and not enjoyable.  Eventually, Sam starts to see that this relationship is no longer enjoyable and ends the relationship.

Are Tracy’s actions ethical?


About shaunmiller

I am a Ph. D student at Marquette University. The primary purpose of this blog is to get my ideas out there, and then have other people scrutinize, critique, build upon, and systematize beliefs. This blog will sometimes pertain to what I'm learning in my classes, but it will occasionally deal with non-classroom issues that I'm thinking about as well.
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