Sin in desperate (and many) situations

I will describe in the following several scenarios and would like to have thoughts whether a specific action (or failure to act in a certain way) would be considered a sin and whether its a grave sin. Please no discussion, whether the scenarios are likely or have any practical relevance.

A and B are on a ship near the shore. The ship sinks with neither A nor B being responsible. A tries to swim towards the shore, B gets knocked out (e.g. some part of the ship collapses) and thrown into the water right next to A within arms reach and starts to go under, as B is unconscious.

Action/non-action: A estimates the distance towards the shore in light of his swimming capabilities and concludes that he would not make it towards the shore while dragging B along; hence, A does not prevent B from drowning and swims towards the shore.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

As 1 except action/non-action: Without consideration whether he might make it towards the shore with B, A decides that he has to save his own life and swims toward the shore.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

As 1 except action/non-action: A wrongly estimates the distance towards the shore and does not prevent B from drowning although he would have made it with B dragged along.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

4: As 1, except A grabs B and tries to make it with B to the shore.

Action/non-action: Due to tiredness and swallowing water A loses hope he will make it towards the shore with B and releases him with B drowning due to still being unconscious.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

5: As 4, except B gets conscious again, but his injury limits his swimming capabilities.

Action/non-action: In consideration of his own tiredness and of Bs limited swimming capabilities A drags B so close to the shore that A is confident to reach shore without dragging B and considers that B at least has a decent chance to reach shore without As help and then releases him. But B nonetheless drowns.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

6: As 4, action/non-action as 4, except A was wrong to lose hope, he would have reached shore even with B dragged along.

Did A sin with his action/non-action?

7: As 1, except A grabs B and uses e.g. a rope to tie B to himself to have both arms free for swimming.

Action/non-action: Due to tiredness and swallowing water A loses hope he will make it towards the shore with B and unties the rope with B drowning due to still being unconscious.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

8: As 7, except B gets conscious again, but his injury limits his swimming capabilities.

Action/non-action: In consideration of his own tiredness and of Bs limited swimming capabilities A drags B so close to the shore that A is confident to reach shore without dragging B and considers that B at least has a decent chance to reach shore without As help and then unties the rope. But B nonetheless drowns.

Did A sin with this action/non-action?

9: As 4, action/non-action as 7, except A was wrong to lose hope, he would have reached shore even with B dragged along.

Did A sin with his action/non-action?

10.7 to 10.9: As 7 to 9, except A tied the rope to stiff to lose by hand; C without ability to swim and to help otherwise but a good thrower is on the shore; A calls C to help him getting rid of B claiming he is unable to make it towrads shore with B; C throws a sharp stick towards A, A uses it to cut rope, rest as in 7 to 9.

Did C sin with his action/non-action?

11.1 to 11.10: As any above, except A has responsibilities towards B due to being captain of the ship, but A is still without fault for ship sinking. Does this change the sinfullness (also for C who knows about As responsibilities) in any scenario 1 to 10?

12.1 to 12.10: As any above, except A has responsibilities towards B due to being captain of the ship and A is at least “25%” personally responsible for the ship sinking due to As own reckless handling of the ship. Does this change the sinfullness (also for C who knows about As responsibilities) in any scenario 1 to 10?
(Obviously, A as captain handling the ship recklessly was sinfull; but its about whether this changes sinfullness of his actions afterwards)

Sorry for this being many different scenarios, but i try to understand all aspects of this issue; please just comment shortly on individual scnarios, e.g. sin yes/no, grave sin yes/no, because [one sentence].

Thx for all answers.

And just not to lose all my thoughts about the scenarios, i try to answer my own questions:

1: Sin, but not grave, A should consider that by keeping B above water, B might regain conscious and then can reach shore on his own; B might only momentarily unconscious.

2: Grave sin, A should at least consider to help B.

3: Sin as 1, since wrong estimation of distance is a non-moral error.

4: No sin, A tried to do what he could to save Bs life, as it would be senseless for A to drown as well if he cannot save B anyway.

5: No sin, A tried to do what he could.

6: Unfortunate but no sin, as wrong estimation is a non-moral error.

7 to 9: No sin, identical to 4 to 6, because stopping to do something (keeping B above water by holding him) or doing something with identical effect (untying the rope holding B above water) is morally identical.

10.7 to 10.9: As A did not sin in 7 to 9, C helping him shouldnt be a sin either.

11.1, 11.3: Grave sin, as captain its As duty to try as hard as possible to save any passengers or crew members life, at least keep him above water for a few secs to have time to think.

11.2: Still grave sin, just a little bit “more grave”

11.4, 11.5, 11.7, 11.8: No sin.

11.6 and 11.9: Maybe sin, as captain should not fail at distance estimations, he should have honed his jobs skills more carefully.

11.10.7 to 11.10.8: No sin.

11.10.9: Maybe sin, depending upon whether C is aware about A wrongly estimating distance; if C knows, he should just inform A about shore being closer (e.g. its just 10 metres and water will be shallow enough to stand).

12.1 to 12.3: Even “more” grave sins, would probably have legal consequences (in addition to recklessness in handling the ship, this might add manslaughter).

12.4 to 12.10: The realy difficult part; is a captain who is at least partly responsible for his ship sinking required to sacrifice his own life before leaving someone behind to drown? Or is it enough if he tries realy, REALY hard and then some extra bit to save everyone before he can use his last strength to get himself to safety?
And C? Should he answer As call for help with “You’re the captain, you caused this accident, try harder before i help you to kill B”? Or never help at all to kill B?

Carn, how long do you think you’d last in 50 degree water?

Morality doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am not prepared to say that any of the described actions are sins. There are just too many vagaries we don’t know: is it night? What’s the water temperature? Are others around? What are they doing - swamping lifeboats? Singing “nearer my God to three” as the ship sinks? And most of all - anyone who’s so much as read an account of a real sinking, I.e. Titanic or Lusitania - knows that panic and fear, including the fear of impending death, are everywhere in these situations, and those feelings - and seeing others have them - changes behavior. As I, the swimmer, swim away from the wreck, am I thinking of my children when I undertake all efforts to save myself? Does the fact that I’m a widower play into this?

I’m sorry, but efforts to assign sin in scenarios like this smacks of “Monday morning quarterbacking” on a vast scale, as we sit at our computers, safe, warm, and drinking coffee.

A followup issue is whether there is some duty for the captain to go down with the ship.

Speaking purely from the perspective of catholic theology, no, I believe there is no such duty.

I think all that questions are sufficiently answered by:
Without B A will reach the shore safely and A is aware about that.
With B A either cannot reach shore or is at least uncertain whether he’ll succeed.
No other people in need of help and nobody else there to help, except for stick throwing C (which also means its not Titanic, but more rowing boat or such).

Yes, it is. Except that its an imaginary A, hence i do not see any problem with “Monday morning quaterbaking” and its an old sport in moral philosophy:

Its not going down with the ship, but whether the special duties of a captain towards crew members/passengers require more of him, when it comes to dragging people towards safety.

My understanding is that Catholic moral teaching does not require us to save somene else’s life at the risk of our own, nor do we sin by misjudging.

So I would say there is no sin involved in scenarios 1–9.

7 to 9 include first A tying B with a rope to himself and then later actively cutting the rope, which keeps B from drowning. Actively cutting a rope an innocent and defenseless person absolutely needs for survival would usually mean actively and deliberately killing an innocent, which usually is not ok, hence i highlight this aspect for further comment.

edit: 7 to 9 also include C providing the instrument for cutting with C being in no danger at all, but unable to “help” in any other way.

Who knows whether we are? In the circumstances, it is one of those cases where we don’t need to comment directly on practical applicability.

At the same time I agree with you that for 1-9 the answer is ‘no’ on the face of the wording. In terms of “it was wrong that they gave up hope” average people have got to go by their lights. However if they were in a position (due to power, status and training) to apply a proven principle they may not necesarily have been “giving up hope” but perhaps on whatever grounds using their power over others to disallow it at an earlier stage in the process by introducing a “revised” definition of “hope”.

In walks of life like banking, or teaching, applicable principles have been built up over millennia. That there have been teachers who flirted with pupils impressed with the power of their authority status must have occurred since earliest times, and that there were higher authorities that let those teachers get away with doing so, must likewise have occurred. However, redrafting the entire basis of being teachers and pupils would be a completely different matter. Extrapolating from a specific, intermittent failing to a permanent and universal top or bottom line is ad hominem and a betrayal.

This is no less the case (i.e proven principles are not undermined) in light of the possibly large number of cases where there was a degree of goodwill on the part of practitioners and not 100% cynicism. Additionally, the reason higher authorities have discretion in supervisory matters is so as to not stifle genuine initiative but NOT to promote or enforce laxity.

If we are giving recognition to this latter angle, it is disingenuous of another party to allege that we are not doing so but are being (just to pick a phrase out of a hat) “fundamentalist”.

Therefore we who are blessed with a faith are commanded in the NT to beseech our Lord that the less vulnerable will remain clear and confident about their hopes for us more vulnerable ones.

Just my take.

That’s not actively killing a person. Pushing that person under the water until he dies is actively killing a person.

In most countries cutting a rope someone absolutely needs to be tied to to survive would be considered equivalent to killing and would in case of lack of justification for cutting be treated as manslaughter or murder.

So what is the difference between cutting the rope that keeps a person above water, so that the person is then guaranteed to drown, and pushing a person under water, so that the person is then guaranteed to drown?

Intent is one main difference. If I cut a rope so that I may survive, I am not intending to kill that person. I am trying to survive, with the probable (because you never know what will happen) effect of that person dying. If I push someone’s head under water, my intention is for that person to die.

A good intent does not automatically mitigate a bad action.

Cutting the rope does in the scenario has the effect of causing the death of B in the same “probably” way that pulling the leaver when someone with the rope aroung his neck is standing on the trapdoor causes the death of the one to be hanged.

No, one might decide that by pushing the other one below the water one keep ones own head above water more easily.

E.g. if i do not have a life west on but the other one has, pushing him down is a good way to keep me above water; alternatively one can hit him unconscious and take his life west. You cannot simply say that because the intent is “good” that therefore the actions are permissable.

I never said they were permissible. I said it was different. Even our court of law recognizes intent. So does the Church. A mortal sin must have intent.

Then please tell me in what way does the scenario 12.10.9 differ from (with similar actions of the scenario in brackets):

Woman has sex without regarding whether she can handle a pregnancy and support the child and gets pregnant with a child with the child now being dependent on her for survival at least till late in the pregnancy (A as captain handles the ship recklessly and causes the whole problem of B being now bound to him helpless and unconscious and dependent on A for survival at least till getting close to the shore),

faces/expects medical difficulties during pregnancy which would not be there in case of ending the pregnancy (A can reach the shore safely without B bound to him, but with B it gets difficult),

wrongly believes the difficulties might cost her her life either literally or at least in what in her mind is her life (A loses hope to reach shore with B dragged along, although he would make it),

calls abortionist for help (A calls C for help),

who can only provide her with abortion pill (C can only provide a sharp stick so A can cut the rope binding him to B) and does so (C throws sharp stick to A)

and the woman takes the abortion pill, which severs the necessary for life connection between the unborn child and her, with the child then dying due to lack of oxygen outside her body (A cuts the rope and B drowns aka dies due to lack of oxygen).

What is without brackets is usually considered to be a sin, especially for the abortionist, yet the differences to the scenario in brackets are small; hence, an explanation is necessary why the one should usually be a sin while the other isn’t.

(And the pratical consideration that usually the “pregnancy endangers the life of the woman and only abortion can remove the risk for her life” is usually a lie is irrelevant for the comparison, as A in 12.10.9 is in error about how difficult reaching shore would be, just like many women might be in error about the actual risks and about alternatives to “cutting the rope”).

(And yes, the whole scenario is constructed with abortion in mind; shore= end of pregnancy; swimming with B dragged along=difficulties of pregnancy and child birth, which would be absent in case of abortion [of course, then different problems might arise]; risk of not making it=risk of dying during pregnancy in child birth; responsible/non-responsible for ship sinking= pregnant due to own questionable behavior/pregnant from rape; responsible as captain=responsibility of a mother towards unborn child even if the child was conceived due to rape; nobody there to help bringing B to shore = nobody can carry the pregnancy to term except the woman herself; C unable to help otherwise=abortionist can only offer the “help” of abortion, C throwing sharp stick= abortionist providing abortion pill; B slowly getting conscious and maybe able to reach shore on his own even with rope cut=late in pregnancy child starts to have a survival chance even if the pregnancy is ended prematurely;

i prefer discussing the abstract scenarios, because discussions about abortion often can run pretty wild and the abstract scenarios are similar enough to understand a few aspects of abortion)

Again, there is a difference. A woman who has an abortion for any reason is morally wrong. Taking an abortion has the direct intention of killing that baby. That pill will not cure the mother- the pill will kill the baby. Let’s say that a pregnant mother found out she has cancer. If she follows her doctor recommendation, she will start an aggressive form of chemo and radiation. The affect of this treatment may cause death to her unborn baby. But her intent in taking the chemo is not to kill her child- it’s to kill the cancer. The intention of taking an abortifacient is always to kill the baby.

Some further musings:

  1. Abortion and a shipwreck are TOTALLY different, for a million reasons, most notably the immediacy of the event: the Lusitania sank in about 15 minutes. Abortion is abortion and a shipwreck is a shipwreck; the 2 are totally dissimilar.

  2. That said, gee, carn, sorta looks like you were playing “gotcha!” with everyone. I find that low and intellectually dishonest: if you want to debate X, debate X, but don’t debate X then say you meant Y. Looks like I was smart not to play this game - turns out the goalposts got moved…

Depending on the exact medication, that is wrong.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an evidence-based mifepristone-misoprostol combination regimen for medical abortion; where mifepristone is not available it recommends a misoprostol-only regimen.”

So abortion is sometimes done only with misoprostol.

The only relevant effect in regard to pregnancies of misoprostol is contractions, so the unborn is expelled mostly as it would happen during any birth; what kills the unborn is that before 22-25 weeks he is simply unable to survive outside the womb. So the intent is to detach the unborn from the woman, just as detaching B from A by cutting the rope.

I am not interested in “gotcha”, i am interested in the moral aspects of killing and/or causing the death with near certain probability or certainty of innocent and defenseless and dependent humans due to the motivation of avoiding the burden and risks resulting from the dependency if the human is continued to be supported, as that is the claimed “justification” for abortion. Shipwreck is fine for discussing the issue; discussing it with abortion has the disadvantage of many side issues that distract from what i am interested in.

Now I get it. You are trying to get me to say that abortion is sometimes moral. So not going to work. Abortion is always, ALWAYS, a grave evil. Always. Look at St. Gianna. She was in the situation you are trying to recreate, and she choice her daughter’s life over her own.

No, i am trying to get you explain, why cutting a rope which someone ABSOLUTELY depends on for survival can according to your opinion under certain circumstances not be a grave evil, while cutting another “rope” which someone ABSOLUTELY depends on for survival (=umblical cord+protection from being in womb, which is both “cut” in case of abortion) is always a grave evil.

That does not necessarily include making you say abortion is sometimes moral, e.g. you could resolve this by naming another difference, which i could not refute, or you could resolve this by reassessing cutting a rope which someone absolutely depends on survival also as always a grave evil. Other alternatives might exist as well.

But it is fine that you are faithful to church teaching.

And yet you and others maintain the position, that a captain responsible for the well being of his passengers is without fault to let them die or even commit actions that are practically equivalent to directly killing them just to save himself?

I don’t maintain that position at all. I simply argued that intent affected degree of culpibility. I never said that the caption isn’t responsible. The pecking order is 1. God 2. Others 3. Self

Putting others first makes this argument moot because one would always do what’s best for others before thinking of self. What a wonderful world we’d live in if this were actually the case.

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