There are moments in our day when we have to make ethical or unethical decisions. I don’t think we intend to make unethical decisions, but upon reflection I believe that some of our decisions might have been exactly that. In The Parable of the Sadhu, the author Bowen McCoy takes readers through his journey of climbing through the Himalayas and describes an ethical dilemma he experienced. Mr. McCoy states that this was a once in a lifetime trip. Those who accompanied him on this journey were his guide Stephen, an anthropologist, their porters, and Sherpas. They were also joined by other parties from New Zealand, Switzerland and Japan.
Many in their party were struggling with altitude sickness due to the heights of the Himalayas. Mr. McCoy had suffered pulmonary edema six years earlier from altitude sickness on a prior climb in the vicinity of Everest base camp, and he was anxious to get to the summit of the mountain. When the New Zealanders came down from the mountain with the hypothermic body of an Indian holy man and dumped him at the feet of Mr. McCoy’s party, I don’t think that he immediately recognized that he was confronted with an ethical dilemma. Mr. McCoy was so focused and anxious in getting to the top of the Himalayas to accomplish his once in a lifetime trip that I don’t think he thought his decision through. His whole focus was to get over the pass. In his mind, the sadhu was alive and either Stephen, the porters or the Japanese would have to tend to him. Never did he think that leaving the sadhu behind was an unethical decision. When Stephen, who stayed with the sadhu caught up with Mr. McCoy at the summit, he asks him “How do you feel about contributing to the death of a fellow man?” Mr. McCoy defended his actions by reminding Stephen that he took the sadhu’s pulse and others had given him clothing. After days of discussions with Stephen, he blamed his action on high adrenaline flow combined with a concern “about withstanding the heights to come and wanted to get over the pass.” Mr. McCoy realized his decision was unethical. Leaving a person behind who cannot fend for himself is unethical particularly when you can help them.
Based on the Golden Rule, Mr. McCoy’s actions were unethical toward the sadhu. Sure, he took his pulse, but he did not share his clothing as Stephen and the other packers did. Mr. McCoy was anxious to continue on with his assent without any interference or delay from any others. The Golden Rule states to treat others like you would want to be treated. I am sure that Mr. McCoy would not want to be treated the way he treated the sadhu. In order for Mr. McCoy’s actions to be ethical, he should have stayed with the sadhu and made sure that he got the help he needed, whether that meant waiting on the trail for help or helping the sadhu down to the hut. Secondly, the definition of the Public Disclosure Test states that people tend to act differently when they know others are watching. I believe if there was a television crew documenting his climb that the outcome would have been completely different. I don’t think he would have proceeded to follow those who had gone ahead. Since Mr. McCoy knew others in the world would be watching, including his family, friends and co-workers, I am sure he would not have left the sadhu the way he did when he wasn’t being filmed. He would not want others to think of him negatively and not as an inhumane, overly goal-driven person. The Public Disclosure Test supports the fact that Mr. McCoy made an unethical decision in regards to the sadhu.
Utilitarian theories assess the ethics of a decision by its consequences. I believe, as I stated earlier, that when Mr. McCoy left the sadhu, the only concern he thought of at the time was arriving at the summit of the Himalayas. Since he was suffering from altitude sickness, he was so focused of thinking only of himself and not others. His top priority was to arrive at the summit. Since that was all he was focused on he could not consider the significance of his decisions. He was so focused on the climb that he could not think of the costs of his decision just to benefit from accomplishing his goal.
Based on the ethical guidelines of the Golden Rule, the Public Disclosure Test and Utilitarian theories as discussed in this paper, Mr. McCoy’s decision of leaving the sadhu is unethical.