Happy ending

There are choices in life that are unjust, that is, that force you to choose between two evils. In practice, however you choose, you will hurt someone. Do you think you are able to bear that load? Because being mature means just that: not so much making the right choice at all, but the necessary one.

If you think so, read the following stories and later on we may talk about.

The crash in the desert

A plane crashes in the Sahara desert. Only three people survives: a man, a pregnant woman, and a child. The three persons are not related, nor are they part of the same family. In addition, they had never met before and they had not spoken during the flight: in practice they are complete strangers to each other, including the child. Thanks to a mobile phone equipped with GPS they are able to make the point: according to a map of the area, the nearest oasis is located seventy-five miles from the crash site. Unfortunately, even if the GPS works, there is no signal to communicate in the desert, of course, and then they have to fend for themselves. In fact, the plane had gone quite a bit off course because of adverse weather conditions, before falling, so it is very likely that no one knows where they are and will come to the rescue in time.

So they gather a few food they found on the plane and half a dozen bottles of water and make the trip. Obviously they move mainly in the morning and evening, resting at night and during the day, when the sun is high in the sky, but despite this the march is also exhausting because the woman has to stop often for fatigue, since she is in the seventh month of pregnancy. After traveling a hundred miles they are depleted and both the food and the water are practically finished. Really they still have only a pint of water. With such a water maybe one of them could reach the oasis, but would not have time to come back with more water for the others. In practice, that pint can save just one person. Of course they could share it but, doing so, they would die for sure before they get to the oasis. It would certainly be a noble gesture, then, but absolutely useless.

It is not the first time that the man rides through the desert, and he knows that even if there is a very remote hope of meeting someone as they approach the oasis, the three are not walking on a caravan trail, so the chances to encounter other people are almost none. In short, if they ration the water and have the good fortune to meet someone, all three could save themselves, but the probability of this happening is much less than one percent and the time does not play in their favor. If one of them take the water and go straight to the oasis, he or she could barely make it to survive, but the others would die for sure. Even if they had a container bigger of a one-pint bottle — which is not — that person would not make it anyway to go back to save the other.

So the most logical solution is also the most unfair: two must die to save one. Not only: the man is a tennis player and is very fit, even if tired. If he were to take the bottle he would save almost for sure. Conversely, the woman is already quite ahead with the pregnancy: there would make it difficult to reach the oasis, even with the available water. On the other hand she represents two lives, not just one, so letting her back would mean sacrificing three lives rather than two. The child, finally: he is very young, only six years old, too few to reach the oasis alone. He would end up going in circles, as often happens when you have no reference points.

Once accepted the fact that only one of the three can survive, from an ethical but not practical perspective, the less sorrowful solution may seem to choose the pregnant woman, but in reality that would cause the death of all three, four if you include the fetus. Discarded the woman, you might think of the child, since he has still all his life in front of him, but even in this case the outcome would be the same: he would not reach the oasis alive. Thus, the more rational choice is also the hardest, the most unjust and distressing: the only one who really has a chance to survive is the man.

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Peacekeeping mission

Marina is a lieutenant in the Army. She is at the command of a company equipped with armored vehicles and she is a well trained soldier. There are now six months that she is in Afghanistan, in a peacekeeping mission that increasingly resembles a war with no holds barred. He saw several companions die in suicide attacks and ambushes, and she can now be considered to all effects a veteran.

Marina is married, she has a six year old daughter and a husband employed by a service company in Milan, Italy. He takes care of the child while his wife is on a mission. Three months to go and she will come back home, but the situation has become more and more difficult so that the command has recently changed the engagement rules, giving top priority to the protection of field troops.

At this time Marina is in the lead vehicles of a convoy; beside her the driver and the Sergeant Major of the company. They must bring drugs in a nearby village who was victim of bombing and where it is believed there are several dead and injured people, even seriously. There are also two surgeons and four nurses with them, carrying a field operating room.

Unfortunately, to get to the village they have to cross a territory partly controlled by the Taliban, where there were already several ambushes, one of which has practically destroyed a Danish convoy similar to their own. For this reason the order is not to stop for any reason. The Taliban are well armed, they have automatic rifles and hand grenades, but their weapons are often old and not always reliable, so it is important not to get stuck. If the convoy continues to travel, they can risk some casualty in case of ambush; if they stop, they do not get out alive.

Fortunately the road is in good condition and the convoy proceeds quickly. However, they are going to cross a hilly area, ideal for an ambush, so they are all with the nerves, including Marina. At one point, in the distance, she sees a person standing in the middle of the street. It takes the binoculars to see what is that. In any case they cannot stop: their orders are binding.

The person is really a young girl, probably eight, ten years old, who is still right in the middle of the road, at a point where the track creeps between two low hills. There is no way to avoid her. Marina asks the driver to honk but the girl does not move and the convoy is now less than half a mile away. The lieutenant knows what is that: it has already happened in the past. The Taliban often force women and children to stand in the road to obstruct the convoys to make them to stop; otherwise, if they do not obey, they will destroy their village and kill all the inhabitants.

Another five hundred yards and Marina can perfectly see the little girl: she is frightened, her face is dusty, streaked with tears, arms are rigid at her sides, the hands clenched into fists. There are now only two hundred yards from the point where the girl stands, and there is no way to avoid her because the soil at the sides of the road does not allow the vehicles a detour. Either they stop or they invest the child. The point is that if they stop, almost certainly there will be in a hell: they will be subjected to a cross-fire and probably to the launch of handmade firebombs to force them to leave the tanks. Marina says that maybe it is not an ambush, maybe the girl wants something from them, but she knows that is not true: she has too much experience to really believe it.

The lieutenant has few seconds to decide: she can stop and risk losing the convoy, which would also mean not to complete the mission, that is, not to bring aid and medicines they promised to the village to which they are directed, or she can accelerate and knock down the girl. Even in such a case, probably some armored vehicle will be shoot and perhaps it will also be hit with some bomb, but they will have a good chance to get out alive. The lieutenant knows that the child is doomed anyway: even if they stop, she will be probably shoot by the fire that the Taliban would trigger on them; it already happened in the past in similar cases. One thing however is to see the child die, killed by the Taliban, another is to invest her with the armored vehicle.

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Giorgio and Luciana are two young researchers at the European Institute of Oncology. They met in college and after three months they went to live together, merging their families made of various domestic animals, since Luciana has three cats and Giorgio has a beagle and a female German Shepherd, as well as two turtles and even a rabbit. They are young, enthusiastic and full of ideals: they want to change the world and love each other so much.

For two years they are engaged in a very important research on a unique approach to immunotherapy. After the first phase, namely that of in vitro experimentation, they are ready to start the second phase of the research, that is, the experimentation on living beings. Being both animal lovers, this phase is making them very uncomfortable even though they know it is necessary, since there is a whole host of side effects to control, which relate to the behavior of the entire body and not just to specific chemical cell reactions. The experiment based on the cultures can not provide these data and, moreover, testing should be imperatively performed also on primates, not just rodents, because certain metabolic processes, that are typical only of that animal order, must be verified too.

Giorgio knows that this step is necessary before moving on to the third and final stage, that is, the experimentation on human beings, but this decision is so painful for him that he decides to confide in a friend. In fact, he already knows he will proceed anyway because it has already taken into account the possible alternatives, and each one may put at risk the patients of a potential third stage. Moreover, just a few days before he had gone to visit, along with Luciana, the twelve year old daughter of one of his dearest friend, a little girl named Sara, admitted to a nearby hospital. Sara was diagnosed since childhood one of the tumors the two scientists are trying to eradicate with their research; this is also one of the reasons for which Luciana proposed to Giorgio to take care of that specific research.

The child was in the hospital to be subjected to yet another chemotherapy treatment and although she was very lively and had a great desire to live, she was obvious really proven by therapy. Giorgio knew that such a tumor had a good chance to recur after many years even after the chemotherapy was successful and for that reason he was determined to find a cure. It would take at least three years before it will be possible to make it available, just in case it pass all three experimental phases and the treatment protocol be established, but at least the little Sara should no longer be treated in such an invasive way, as well as many other young patients. It was in fact a disease that affects primarily children between three and ten years.

A week after visiting Sara in the hospital, Giorgio and Luciana go at the institute but are blocked by a picket of anti-vivisection activists who wants to prevent them from entering the laboratory. One of the activists is the girlfriend of Giorgio’s friend, who heard about the project and immediately organized a protest. The two young researchers try to make it clear to protesters, all mostly their peers, that there was no other way, that it was absolutely necessary to proceed with testing on animals, and that they would try to do it in the best way possible, minimizing the number of animals used and avoiding unnecessary suffering, but there is no way. In the end, disheartened, they force the picket line and enter the lab.

Since then they become the target of several associations that accuse them of being monsters and murderers. Among them there are many former friends who begin to ostracize and make life impossible for them. This situation hits the headline in the web too, where thousands of people, who do not know the couple and their research at all, begin to attack them with insults, passing in a short from electronic message to anonymous phone calls at night and some vandalism on the car and on the couple’s home.

Luciana in particular is really shocked, because among the activists there is also an old school mate of hers with whom she had forged a deep friendship. The young researcher tries to explain how, thanks to animal testing, it would be possible to detect early damage to humans, thus avoiding to experiment on patients and volunteers potentially dangerous therapies, but the young man does not want to listen to reason. He is convinced that it is sufficient in vitro testing to save children like Sara and, not having the necessary scientific knowledge, neither George nor Luciana manage to change his mind.

The young couple is at a crossroads: they can give up the research to regain, perhaps, the affection and the respect of their friends, knowing, however, that this mean to sentence to death many patients that, like Sarah, are sick of that particular type of cancer, or move forward in animal testing which, even in compliance of European Union laws, will involve some very heavy interventions on animals. All this in the hope that one day they will be able to finally find an effective therapy, without having anyway any certainty of success. If they take the second choice, however, the two youths know that they will loose all their friends, permanently stigmatized as insensitive murderers.

Click here to read the end of the story

All three of these stories are fictional but are based on facts and real situations, actually happened. The purpose of this article, however, is not to show that some choice is better than another, not either that one is right and the other is wrong, but that there are situations beyond our control in which the choices are limited and often the most realistic one, that leading to the lesser of the two evils, is in conflict with the ethical principles established in our society.

In practice, sticking to our society’s principles means, in some cases, to make the worst choice, the one that causes the biggest damage; on the other hand do not comply often means being ostracized and condemned by a society that generally thinks by stomach or by heart and not by brain. The point is that each of us could one day face with such dilemma and there is no way to avoid it. Think about it, the next time you feel that it is enough to have good intentions and strong principles to make the right choice.

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