So my dad was admitted to the hospital a couple of days ago for pneumonia. It looks like he's going to be okay, but he's still pretty weak. They'll probably release him today or tomorrow.
But here's what struck me. When he was admitted around 8:30pm to the emergency room, he didn't really get a chance to eat anything from the hospital for almost 12 hours. They don't serve dinners in the emergency room, and when they transferred him to an isolation room (they thought he might have H1N1), it was past dinner time, and then they somehow missed out on him for breakfast. (Apparently every single room in the hospital was taken... they had patients overflowing into the delivery rooms of the hospital. Jokes about unintentional c-sections ensue.)
So when they finally served him some food, it just came. There wasn't anything like a menu or him giving a preference. A nurse came in and plopped a plate of mashed potatoes, roast beef, and veggies on his table.
So I thought... What if I was my dad? Its inevitable(!) that I'll have a hospital stay in the future and I'm a vegetarian. The last time I had an animal product in my mouth, I almost threw up. I don't think I'd have an obligation to be a vegetarian in a hospital, since I don't have the option to do otherwise (be a vegetarian) since it is, in this scenario, necessary for my health.
What if I were overseas, and the hospital menu was dog? Humpback whale? Panda bear? Aborted fetus?
At what point does necessity overtake our moral sensibilities? People draw lines at survival and health quite often when it comes to eating, but for other values they would simply say they'd rather die than do X. Its this internal ranking of our values that this illustrated for me. Animal suffering is important to me, but not so important that I'd risk damage to my health. Peter Singer argues that we should give to the poor to the extent that we are not sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance (which he leaves vaguely defined so the individual can determine what is actually of comparable moral significance). My health is something of comparable moral significance to animal welfare.
But the aborted fetus question that I posed above isn't just about comparable moral significance. Its about our personal sensitivities. I might be willing to die before I eat an aborted fetus, not because I find abortion or cannibalism morally objectionable, but because I find it gross. Place a bowl of maggots in front of me and I just might rather sacrifice my health and starve.
All of this got me to think: "How important IS ethics to me?" Because apparently my personal sensitivities could outrank my ethical beliefs (I'm willing to eat meat for my health, but not willing to eat maggots for my health). How important are they for you?