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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mother’s dilemma

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This is a hypothetical dilemma and thought experiment I made up. It's not simple and may be heart-wrenching for some, so proceed with caution. What were you do if you were mother in the question below?

You are mother of four children and part of a happily family. One day a crazy man breaks into your house to steal while your husband and three children are away. You are alone along with one of the children. Somehow, circumstances lead to such that life of your child is endangered. You have two options. (1) If you don’t act, you survive and your child dies. (2) If you fight, you get killed but child is spared. Culprit escapes in either case. For purpose of this hypothetical question, ignore outside help such as police or neighbours and ignore third option of both surviving. These are not drastic assumptions and very plausible in most circumstances.

Without exception mother will always scarifies herself for her child. So question is not really difficult since there is only one practical answer. Tricky part is whether that decision is best-for-all optimal decision? If you die, then your four children are raised motherless, and will suffer incomplete childhood, with potential fallout in adulthood development and mental trauma. If you survive, then you will have to live with the guilt of letting your child die, along with any blame that may arise from husband or other children. One side is a family of three children with both parents and lifetime of guilt for mother, other side is a family of four children with one parent and some sadness which will typically last until adulthood of children. Which loss is lesser?

As neutral third party, I’d find first option optimal, though that’s not likely to happen unless mother is under full use of her brain and faculty at time of tragedy. Second option is instantaneous emotional response. What is your take?

Consider following independent variations of this problem and see if your answer changes.
  • If there is no father?
  • If father is drunkard and lousy dad?
  • If child under threat of life is youngest of all? Oldest of all?
  • If one of surviving children needs special attention?
  • If all four children are in their late teens or older? Below age of twelve?
  • If there are three children? Two children? Five children?
  • If instead of mother there is father in the original scenario and in each of subsequent variations?
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