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Dudley and Stevens 
26th-Apr-2010 08:13 pm
Preface: I've started watching (on DVD) a PBS series called Justice in which Professor Michael Sandel discusses a number of moral/legal dilemmas and stimulates debate among his audience.

In one of the episodes, he discussed the old English case of The Queen vs. Dudley and Stevens. If you want to know all the facts of the case, you can go here, but if you want a quick version, assume these facts:

1. The English yacht Mignonette sets sail with four passengers: Dudley (the captain), Stevens (the first mate), Brooks and Parker (the cabin boy.)
2. The yacht sinks in a storm and the four are adrift for days in a life raft.
3. The crew runs out of food and after being at sea for about 18 days, the subject of cannibalism to stay alive is discussed. Dudley and Stevenson consider a lottery to select who the first to be eaten will be, but Brooks wants no part of it.
4. Parker is in a coma, and so Dudley and Stevens agree to kill Parker in order to eat him to survive. While Stevens holds Parker, Dudley kills him with a penknife.
5. Five days later the survivors are rescued. Brooks reports what has happened and Dudley and Stevens are charged with the murder of Parker.
6. Assume that murder is defined as the unlawful killing of another human being with intent to cause that person's death.
7. In their defence, Dudley and Stevens argue the defence of necessity, i.e. that killing Parker was necessary to preserve their own lives.

Poll #1556769 Dudley and Stevens

On those facts, if you are on the jury, do you find Dudley and Stevens guilty of murder?

27th-Apr-2010 06:30 am (UTC)
If the man was not dead, it's murder. Plain and simple.

If the man WAS DEAD, and the remaining men were starving, I would have no issue with using his body for food.

Otherwise, if a person is still alive, and they didn't ask you to kill them...you have no right to interfere.
27th-Apr-2010 10:54 am (UTC)
27th-Apr-2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Ah, Regina v. Dudley and Stevens, my old friend. I think it's the first case we ever read in law school. Probably cause it's memorable.
(Oh, and no, they shouldn't have eaten the guy.)
27th-Apr-2010 02:43 pm (UTC)
Involuntary manslaughter.
27th-Apr-2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree with this. I'd call it involuntary manslaughter. And how long was the cabin boy expected to survive in a coma on a life raft? It was likely only a matter of time, anyhow, by which point *everyone* would have been dead. And they had no way of knowing whether rescue would come in 5, 15, 25 or 250 days - if at all. They had little other choice, I think.

Cases like this are why it's important to have an Advance Cannibalism Directive before you head out to sea or board that plane bound for the Andes. Talk to your friends and family now so they won't be prosecuted for eating you later.
27th-Apr-2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
Of course, it's somewhat of a trick question. There's not really a substantive question that they committed murder. The question is whether there's a defense they can raise. Item six includes the definition of murder, but item seven doesn't include a similar assumed definition of necessity. For the sake of formalism, that's where the interesting stuff happens.
27th-Apr-2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
I don't really see it as a trick question at all. If murder is defined as the unlawful</a> killing of another with intent, and if necessity makes it lawful, (much like, say, self-defence), then if people see the killing as necessary, it must not be murder.

Perhaps I should have included a definition of necessity, I was just concerned that people already thought that the question was way too long.

What I think is really fascinating about this question is that I don't believe a person really can judge the actions of Dudley and Stevens without being in their position. I have no clue what I'd do in their place, though I suspect the last thing I'd think of is to debate the morality of my action.
27th-Apr-2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
Well, one thing to keep in mind is that what's legal isn't necessarily moral, and what's immoral isn't necessarily illegal. Here, it's almost a right-brain, left-brain thing, at least for me.

I mean, if you talk about morality, I don't think it's moral, and I think that museofmyself stated what's a sort of general sense of a norm on this thing (even if that's not a strictly rational one). Of course, if we talk about what I'd do in their place, on day 19, someone's falling down a flight of stairs. Maybe not, but what I think is that I'm acting to protect the group's collective morality by taking unilateral action.

Bring up the definition of murder and it shifts to a much more formalistic discussion. If you assume that there is a "defense of necessity," how you actually define that defense changes whether or not it applies. For example totally off the top of my head, is the necessity an objective standard, a subjective standard, or both?

Actually, come to think of it, that's one of the aspects of the facts that makes the situation interesting. The 5 days between the murder and the rescue makes the murder seem tragic or even ironic. Objectively, based on what happened, there's minimal need to kill Parker. Subjectively, however, it's easy to see how they might have believed the only way to survive would be killing Parker, and right then.

Needless to say, it's probably doable to craft definitions of necessity that justify it, and ones that don't, and under any definition there should be room for reasonable disagreement. But that's why I think it's necessary, if there's a definition of murder, for there to also be a definition of necessity.

'Course, in my mind, bringing up necessity at the trial was a dead end to begin with. As opposed to effectively fabricating a defense whole cloth, I would have tried to shunt in negligence, and state that that an assumed risk of shipboard life is that you're going to end up on a lifeboat somewhere and devoured by your crewmates.
27th-Apr-2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Yes for Dudley but no for Stevens.
27th-Apr-2010 08:40 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean there.
27th-Apr-2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Did Brooks just sit there and watch them eat their crewmate raw?
28th-Apr-2010 05:35 am (UTC)
According to the Wikipedia article, Brooks joined in on the buffet.
28th-Apr-2010 03:43 am (UTC)
Yes, they're guilty of murder, but I wouldn't punish them too severely for it. I'm sure they're suffering enough.
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