Throughout life, there are many situations that make us think whether our decisions are ethical or unethical. When we think about ethic, we believe it is based on feeling, religion, laws, or societal norms. However, these four points do not decide whether a behavior is ethical or unethical. When people make ethical decision, they must identify how the decision impacts others. In Bowen H. McCoy’s essay, “The Parable of the Sadhu”, McCoy describes an ethical dilemma he experienced in making a decision in the Himalayas of whether to help support the sadhu or continue on trekking the Himalayas.
He decides to leave the sadhu behind and gives justification for his behavior, which ultimately leads to an argument with his friend Stephen. Later on in the essay however, McCoy expresses his guilt about the sadhu and is confronted with an ethical dilemma. As a reader, I perceive McCoy’s behavior as unethical. He recognizes later on that he was confronted with an ethical dilemma, and the ethical guidelines, Golden Rule and Public Disclosure Test supports that McCoy’s decision is unethical.
Also, the cost and benefits of McCoy’s decision, left the sadhu and arrived at the summit, is not properly weighed.
When Stephen who stayed with the sadhu, arrives at the summit, he asks McCoy, “How do you feel about contributing to the death of a fellow man?” Stephen explains that the sadhu was left behind after having been cared for to the best of their ability. Rather than sympathy or acknowledgement of good deed, McCoy is too busy defending and justifying the group’s actions by remarking that they did what they could for the sadhu and that they “are at the apex of one of the most powerful experiences of [their] lives…” (McCoy, 106). McCoy expresses that his priority is to arrive at the summit of the Himalayas. At that moment in time, McCoy valued completing the trek over caring for the sadhu’s life. McCoy’s priority was clearly different from that of Stephen’s. If McCoy could have realized that the sadhu could die if he and the group left him, he could not defend himself and the group with such a dignified attitude.
People cannot decide whether McCoy’s behavior is ethical or unethical solely based on their feeling, the law, religion, or societal norm. By applying McCoy’s situation to the ethical guidelines, people can decide whether his decision was in fact ethical or unethical. There are three ethical guidelines: the Golden Rule, the Universalization Test, and the Public Disclosure Test. The Golden Rule says to treat others the way you would want to be treated. Secondly the Universalization Test is to imagine that everyone in the world makes the same decisions that you make and to assess that decision. Lastly, the Public Disclosure Test is to evaluate a decision by thinking that your action and intention are publicized.
Based on the Golden Rule, if McCoy wants to be treated by others like he did to the sadhu, his decision would be ethical. In other words, in order for McCoy’s decision to be ethical, if he needs help from others, McCoy cannot desire servitude greater than that which he can offer. If McCoy placed himself in the sadhu’s situation, he probably would not have left the sadhu and continue climbing the Himalayas. If he knew that his decision would be publicized worldwide, McCoy himself and the rest of his group could not have left the sadhu. They would be frowned upon as people who abandoned the sadhu despite their main goal of finishing the climb. Based on the ethical guidelines, McCoy’s decision was an unethical decision.
Additional to the ethical guidelines, there is the utilitarian theories, which assess the ethics of a decision by its consequences. I believe that when McCoy left the sadhu, the only outcome he thought was arriving at the summit of the Himalayas. As mentioned before, completing the climb was one of the most powerful experiences of his lifetime.
He also suffered from altitude sickness through which he did not have time to think of others. McCoy said to Stephen and Pasang, “I was concerned about withstanding the heights to come and wanted to get over the pass,” and he got out of the situation. His top priority was to arrive at the summit. Since all he could look upon was that, he could not consider any other values or costs of his decision. In other words, McCoy failed to balance the costs and benefits of his decisions. Based on utilitarian theories, McCoy’s decision was unethical.
Using the various ethical guidelines, McCoy’s decision of leaving the sadhu for his own achievement is unethical. Leaving a person who cannot manage oneself, is unethical, especially if something could have been done. For McCoy was so focused on his goal, he failed to confront this ethical dilemma immediately and could not think of the costs of his decision. Therefore, his decision was weighed more on his own benefits. Also, if McCoy had first considered the impact his decision could have on the other, I would like to believe he would not have gone forth in seeking his goal.