News, Culture & Society

Should you save a dying stranger if you know they eat MEAT?

Letting meat eaters drown is ethical because of the suffering they cause to animals, an Oxford academic controversially argues. 

That is unless they convert to being a vegetarian upon being saved, but even then it still might be better to let them die. 

Dr Michael Plant, a philosopher focusing on happiness, and who does eat meat himself, argues that according to some moral philosophies, it can be justifiable to let people like himself die.

His argument stems from a conflict of what he says are two commonly held beliefs.

The first is human beings have a duty to rescue each other when doing so comes at a trivial cost. 

For example, jumping into a pond to save a drowning child but ruining your clothes in the process. 

The second belief, Dr Plant claims, is that it is wrong to eat meat because of the suffering animals can experience in factory farms. 

Such farms often keep livestock, like chickens, in cramped, dirty conditions before they are slaughtered. 

He says this conflict leaves people who subscribe to the second belief in a morally interesting position if they encounter someone who eats meat drowning in a pond, and that allowing them to die might in fact be the lesser evil. 

An Oxford academic has argued that some moral philosophies allow people to ethically not save meat-eaters in life-or-death situations due to the cruelty their diet inflicts on animals in factory farms 

Such farms, where animals like chickens are kept in cramped dirty conditions, often in pain for months of their life before being slaughtered are controversial

Such farms, where animals like chickens are kept in cramped dirty conditions, often in pain for months of their life before being slaughtered are controversial 

Trendy raw vegan diet loved by Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore might do more harm than good, warns dietary expert 

The raw vegan diet loved by Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore can do more harm than good in the long run, an expert has warned.

While going vegetarian or vegan has become popular recently, some are taking it to the extreme and only eating raw plant foods that can be consumed without cooking.

There are claims that ingredients can lose important nutrients and enzymes in the cooking process – and having raw plant food will improve energy levels, prevent disease and boost overall health.

But Dr Laura Brown, a senior lecturer in nutrition at Teesside University, warned the diet could cause more harm than good if followed for a long time.

On The Conversation website, she said some vegetables actually provide a greater nutrient content when cooked, as the process helps break down cell walls and allows nutrients to be released.

For example, when spinach is cooked it becomes easier for the body to absorb the calcium it contains.

Asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, kale and cauliflower are also more nutrient-dense when cooked, she wrote.

‘It seems universally accepted that doing or allowing a harm is permissible — and may even be required — when it is the lesser evil,’ he wrote in the Journal of Controversial Ideas.

‘I argue that, if meat eating is wrong on animal suffering grounds then, once we consider how much suffering might occur, it starts to seem plausible that saving strangers would be the greater evil than not rescuing them and is, therefore, not required after all.’

Dr Plant compares this to a pond scenario where, instead of a child, a person sees a cruel dictator known for torturing their populace drowning.

To save the dictator would allow them to continue inflicting suffering, so, similar to a meat eater, allowing them to drown might be the lesser evil. 

He acknowledges most readers will consider this argument ‘preposterous’.

But he counters that since a year of a person eating meat is roughly equivalent to five years of chickens suffering in abominable conditions, the total ‘negative wellbeing’ created by that person over time is quite large.  

Dr Plant also acknowledges some might argue that saving the meat eater’s life is permissible if you convert them to being a vegetarian upon rescuing them.

But, the moral merits of this could vary on if the person is successfully converted, he adds.    

‘It seems most likely they would assume your request was mad and ignore it. “You won’t believe what happened to me today. I fell in the pond and would have drowned if someone hadn’t pulled me out. But that wasn’t the weird thing. The person who pulled me out then asked if I ate a lot of chicken and demanded I stop.”,’ he said. 

‘The reason we seriously countenance not saving the Drowning Dictator is that, while the best outcome would be if you saved him and then successfully convinced him to stop doing bad things, we recognise this outcome is not at all likely.’

Dr Plant concludes his argument by saying there is a ‘deep and underappreciated tension’ between the beliefs of saving lives and not eating from factory farms.  

‘While we would not normally consider these beliefs to be relevant to each other, I pressed the straightforward problem that, if we have those animal welfare concerns then, when we account for them, it reduces, and may remove, the obligation to rescue others. I consider this surprising and disturbing,’ he said. 

Dr Plant himself has previously described himself as a ‘welfatarian’ someone who eats animals only if the creature in question has experienced a happy life prior to their death. 

He does not specifically address in his article if welfatarians should be saved in life-or-death situations.