Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ethics for Magical People: Psychic Voyeurism (2 of 4)

In the case studies of Billy using his psychic powers to help his friends, he violated the basic human rights of the people he spied on. None of the subjects gave him permission to spy on them. His friends gave him no compelling reason to help them in their data collecting. When Billy did it out of a desire to please them, he committed serious ethical breaches. The foremost was denying his subjects their autonomy.

In the first example, Billy used his psychic powers to ease his friend’s concern about her brother. Alex, Michelle’s brother, has the mental capacity of a nine year old, though the physical age of a young adult. Because of his profound disabilities, their grandmother is Alex’s guardian. Like many people who have brain disabilities, Alex cannot give consent except in limited circumstances. His guardian is, legally, the only one who can.

However, Alex’s sister, Michelle wants information to assure herself that he was not in serious trouble. Their grandmother had called informing her that Alex was with the police. Upset, Michelle wanted Billy to “look in” on him. However, she had not obtained permission from the grandmother. Impatient to find out how serious the trouble was, Michelle was too distressed to wait for her grandmother to call back.

Does Michelle have a reason to collect data about Alex? By asking Billy, is she acting in the “best interests” of her brother and grandmother? The information that she did receive, Michelle did not relay to her grandmother. Therefore her impatience is not reason enough to rob Alex of his innate dignity. When they violated the trust of Alex and his guardian, Billy and Michelle denied them both their autonomy.

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