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Making Mortal ChoicesThree Exercises in Moral Casuistry$
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Hugo Adam Bedau

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780195108774

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195108774.001.0001

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Seaman Holmes and the Sinking of the William Brown

Seaman Holmes and the Sinking of the William Brown

(p.3) One Seaman Holmes and the Sinking of the William Brown (p.4)
Making Mortal Choices

Hugo Adam Bedau

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the case of the William Brown, a ship that struck an iceberg in 1841. Lacking lifeboats for all aboard, the crew was forced to decide whom to save: some passengers were thrown overboard and others left on board without lifeboats, while crew members and some passengers boarded the available lifeboats. Only one crew member was put on trial for “manslaughter on the high seas”. The author discusses in depth a large number of principles that could have guided the crew — such as saving the most possible, placing passengers' safety first, or saving families plus crew — intertwining his consideration of these principles with a discussion of the court proceedings and various relevant judicial opinions. Ultimately, he disagrees with the jury's decision to find the crew member guilty of manslaughter, and provides a detailed explanation of his reasoning.

Keywords:   William Brown, manslaughter, lifeboats

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