"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.
This week, a man's wheelchair-bound father and his craving for delicious treats teaches us all an important lesson on the value of human life, and a young couple from Pennsylvania hires a female rabbi (sic) to officiate at their wedding.
My 71-year-old father lives in a nursing home, is confined to a wheelchair and is tube-fed. He understands the health risks of his taking food or liquid by mouth. (He got pneumonia this way.) When he was first admitted and asked me to bring him a milkshake, I refused. Now that I see he will eat whatever he wants, I'm inclined to give it to him. Am I more compassionate or less ethical? — name withheld, Illinois
End of life issues are difficult and painful, making them a personal favorite. I have already explained my position on what should be done with my important, valuable body if I am ever left by a jealous God in a vegetative state, which is of course, that it should be kept alive no matter what the emotional or economic cost on my friends and family. Even if it should crush them, at least my drooly, poopy, living corpse will still be powered by modern science and the need of a people for their hero.
But neither you nor your father are as important as I am, as evidenced by the fact that you're the one writing the letters, and I'm the one making fun of those letters on a website you probably don't even know about. Scientifically speaking, I'm worth 3.7 of your dads.
So by all means, buy your father the milkshake, but as he is taking his first delicious, delightfully cold sip, pull the plug. There will be plenty of milkshakes in heaven. Just kidding. Heaven is a myth. Oh well. Seriously.
My son and daughter-in-law paid a rabbi in advance to officiate at their wedding. A few days before the ceremony, the rabbi was incapacitated and could not attend. She reluctantly agreed to return part of the money, arguing that she was entitled to be paid for her preparation time. I say that she did not do the job and so should not collect a fee. Right? — name withheld, Pennsylvania
You should withhold all the money from her, yes. Not because she was incapacitated and unable to perform the ceremonial duties to which she had agreed, but because there is no such thing as a female rabbi. Whoops on you. She is a liar, and she should be treated as a liar.
When your son and daughter-in-law want the bonds of their love to be recognized by the patron saint of flowing silk scarves, tasteful wireframe glasses, and sermons that reference Sex and the City, then by all means, a "female rabbi" is the perfect choice. Please invite me to their divorce, which will of course be marked by a somber drum circle, and the traditional placing of two symbols of their time together (usually a pair of anniversary cuff-links and a dog-eared copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) into a small boat which is then set on fire and cast off into the sea.
Also, I know this wasn't something you were specifically asking about in your letter, but the answer is yes, having hired a female rabbi to officiate at his wedding and then not being able to actually handle the situation himself when said female rabbi shirked her duties and tried to Jew him out of the payment (ding dong) so he had to ask his dad to straighten it out and his dad tried to straighten it out by writing a frustrated letter to the New York Times does actually make your son gay. Knowledge is power. You're welcome.