in Ethicist

The Ethicist: 6 December 2017

Should Buyers Be Told About the Killer Next Door?

Question:

I live in a one-family house adjacent to the house of a family whose son was a serial killer 25 years ago. He was 20 at the time and killed two people. He was recently released and now lives there. My son will inherit our house after us and plans to live elsewhere closer to work.
He wonders if he is morally obliged to inform prospective buyers about the neighbor’s history.

Correct answer:

Morally obliged? No. But ethics is more complex than morality due to the situational nature of ethical systems.

Buyers and sellers in any transaction have ethical obligations to one another, and this increases with the size and scope of the transaction. The purchase or sale of a home is usually the biggest, or one of the few biggest, financial transactions in someone’s life. As the seller of a home who’s going to deal with the buyer of a home, your son must disclose negative information about the home to its buyer.

This does not mean that your son is obliged to convince prospective buyers not to buy his home. That would be crazy. He doesn’t need to make yard signs about the-serial-killer-next-door or bring up the-serial-killer-next-door right away in any conversation. He just needs to show the same basic decency that he would show if a ten lane highway was going to be built next door, or if a heroin rehab facility or sewage processing plant was next door.

Question:

I am Facebook friends with a well-known practitioner in my field. I’ve never met him… I saw a bunch of posts in my Facebook feed featuring pictures and such from a somewhat flamboyant blond woman with the same last name as this fellow…. I assumed she was his spouse, and I’d somehow accepted her friend request. There were a lot of posts that I was not interested in … I quickly unfriended her…. she had just come out as trans. She was formerly he … I feel terrible. I would never unfriend someone for coming out as transgender….

Correct answer:

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

You became someone’s facebook friend expecting professional information related to your field. Then that sort of information got replaced by “a lot of posts that [you were] not interested in (fashion, glamour)” and, as a result, you “quickly unfriended” that person.

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

Nothing wrong was done at all: a person can post professional business information one day on social media and then fashion and glamour garbage the next if that’s what he or she desires, and you can be that person’s “friend” one day and then “unfriend” him or her the next day if that’s what you desire.

There is no obligation to initiate or to maintain a “friendship” with anyone on any social media platform.

Question:

My husband and I have our medical insurance through a Medicare Advantage insurance plan…. our plan offers gift cards when a member participates in certain “best practices” such as having an annual flu shot, an annual physical or a mammogram. When I recently called to request a $50 gift card … my husband became extremely angry and told me to cancel my request. He insisted that by requesting these gift cards I was participating in the high cost of medical insurance. I told him he was being ridiculous and refused to do so….

Correct answer:

Your ethical obligation to your insurance company is to follow correct procedures and to avoid insurance fraud. Taking advantage of the gift card program for “best practices” is the correct procedure, so you are right to obtain the benefit from it.

Insurance companies benefit by spending less money on preventable costs, and it is totally normal for them to pass some of those savings along to their customers. Sometimes this is done through lower premiums, and sometimes it’s through things like gift cards. Lower premiums are preferable, but gift cards are acceptable too. Your husband is probably senile.

Question:

I am a physician practicing in a state where marijuana is legal, both medicinally and recreationally. I will occasionally receive a bottle of wine from a patient as a token of gratitude. Recently, I was offered some marijuana by a patient for this reason. I did not accept, but would it have been wrong if I had?

Correct answer:

Morally, there is no difference between alcohol and cannabis. If there were a moral difference, cannabis would be less morally problematic than alcohol, because it is less harmful to one’s health.

Ethically, I do wonder about doctors accepting gifts from patients, but if the relevant professional bodies don’t have a problem with doctors accepting gifts of alcohol, I can not see any reason for them not to accept gifts of cannabis.