[OPINION] What’s the right thing to do?  

Winston Pagador

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] What’s the right thing to do?  
'In a fast-changing world where even the boundaries of truth and fiction appear to be blurrier than ever, the least we could do is to pause and reflect'

While having breakfast on a Saturday morning, I saw a news story on national TV which disgusted me. It was about the discovery of a newborn baby boy, in a gas station toilet, left by a  woman. The police officers whose station was nearby made the discovery. To make matters worse, a piece of tissue paper was found inside the child’s mouth. It was truly disgusting.  

The immediate presumption was that the woman who left the child was the mother. I thought, “Who else could it have been?” After having recently read about cognitive reflection, I wanted to give this  woman the benefit of the doubt. So I reflected and asked myself: Who is this woman? Why did she do it? What is her problem? What drives her to leave her helpless child in a dirty place? How can she be so heartless? Certainly, she must have reasons, right? 

Regardless of whether the woman is the mother or not, she will be facing criminal charges. It is a criminal offense to abandon a minor, let alone a newborn. What defense might she reasonably offer? I imagine her saying that she has no money and is incapable of rearing the child, hence the abandonment. But of all places, why leave the child in a filthy toilet? I imagine her claiming that the child’s father abandoned her, causing emotional distress or that she did not know who the father was. Again, why blame it all on a child by disposing of him like a piece of garbage? 

I also imagine the backlash and bashing from the public: “You are a heartless human  being,” or “You could have gone to an orphanage or some institution where the child can have a better place to live.” You could have had the child adopted” or “You enjoyed the pleasure but  discarded the innocent child. Shame on you.” “That’s what you get for being irresponsible. You should have done the right thing. You should rot in jail.” These are some of the thoughts that I could envision from the public. 

But really, what is the right thing to do? I’ve heard stories of newborn babies whose identities are fabricated through agreement between the birth mother and the prospective parents, often involving monetary transactions. The child is given directly to the adoptive parents without following legal adoption procedures. The parties involved justify this practice by arguing that the child, unaware of the implications, will at least have the chance of a better life. There have also been stories of a hopeless mother or irresponsible father opting to end the life of a child because, in their minds, caring for that child would interfere in enjoying and pursuing their respective dreams and goals in life. In short, they are not ready. Nothing is more disgusting than treating a human being like a disposable object, tossing them aside when you are done with them.  

But why did the mother, or whoever she was, choose that toilet? If the intention really was to discard that child permanently, why not end his life immediately? Why not place the child in a dark alley where passing motorists would unknowingly ensure his immediate demise? Why not throw that child in a sewer or a nearby river? These are difficult questions whose answers are somehow essential to the understanding of the motives of the woman.

Must Read

[Science Solitaire] Arguments are our antidote to our naturally lazy brains

[Science Solitaire] Arguments are our antidote to our naturally lazy brains

It is often difficult to know what the right answers are because moral decisions can involve conflicting principles and complex situations, which brings to mind the famous trolley experiment. The trolley experiment presents a moral dilemma involving a runaway trolley. In this scenario, a person is positioned near a switch that can divert the trolley onto a different track, veering it away from a group of people who are in its path. However, by diverting the  trolley, the person would cause it to collide with another individual who is on the alternative  track. What is the right thing to do? Is it better to divert the trolley and kill one individual rather than killing a group of people?

Likewise, consider the transplant experiment where a doctor has the ability to save five patients in need of organ transplants by harvesting organs from one healthy individual. Or, recall the lifeboat experiment, where there is a need to throw someone overboard to ensure the survival of the remaining passengers, otherwise the boat may risk sinking due to overcrowding. In any and every one of these scenarios, one has to make a difficult choice. Either way, that choice will cause harm to a human being. 

Circling back to the news story where a woman abandoned a child in a gas station toilet, does it justify her decision not to kill the child but instead leave it in a filthy place? Does it justify her decision not to throw the child in a polluted river, but instead leave it somewhere where discovery is more likely? But why put tissue paper in the child’s mouth making it impossible for him to voice his cry?  

There are more questions than there are answers. Just like with any other dilemma, we do not want to think through complexities. Studies show that our brain is designed to think simply, while any complexities are frowned upon. We prefer mental shortcuts. We form opinions based on incomplete information. It’s part of being human; otherwise, we couldn’t function as expected. In our daily lives, however, decision-making is not always straightforward, and even well-intentioned decisions and actions can have unintended consequences. Emotions can cloud judgment. Our feelings of guilt, fear, empathy, or disgust may impact our ability to objectively assess a situation and make a rational decision. We are not immune to biases. We seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, leading them to dismiss or overlook alternative perspectives that challenge our views. For example, supposed that we’ve concluded that the woman is irresponsible and must be punished, it only takes seconds to formulate who that woman could be – a deranged, unthinking slut. We tend to make snap judgments without taking the time to understand individual differences or unique circumstances. Why should we? It’s exhausting.  

Must Read

[Science Solitaire] What is an open mind?

[Science Solitaire] What is an open mind?

But in a fast-changing world where even the boundaries of truth and fiction appear to be blurrier than ever, the least we could do is to pause and reflect. This applies to you, me, and that woman who abandoned a child. What I am driving at here is that in some instances, no matter how outrageous a situation, no matter how utterly disgusting, no matter how impossibly beyond imaginings, we may need to zoom out or practice distancing. This helps to give us some perspective so that we could ask questions such as: “What is really happening here? What am I looking at here? Am I missing important details?” This proves to be  challenging because it is not our default approach. Perhaps we can try? –

Winston Pagador, 36 years old, lives in General Santos City and works as a lawyer.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!