A dilemma you don’t need

Last week I saw an interview about a man in New Zealand who had to make the ultimate choice. The car that was carrying his wife and 13 year old son crashed into a river and began to sink, the man, unable to save both of them had to make a choice as to who to save. He opted for his wife and had to watch as the car, which was trapping his son, began to sink. He prayed for a miracle but sadly his son perished.

The interviewee asked him why he chose his wife, and he couldn’t answer. He didn’t know why. All he knew was he could only get to one of them and he did what he did. The first thing that the host said to her colleagues afterwards was that her natural reaction would be to save her child, in fact, she implied that that would be the logical choice of any rational parent faced with the same dilemma. Then, I think realising that she was in fact judging this man, she quickly rounded off the story, concluding that it was an impossible horrible choice to have to make in the first place.

But I saw that she didn’t agree with his choice.

This led me to start thinking about it in more depth. Who would I honestly choose to save?, My son, No doubt in my mind. Friends and family I have asked have all said they would do the same. But then, that is making this decision from the comfort of my own home, safely dry and nowhere near a river. The reality of course must be different, so either the people I am asking are all liars, or there is something else going on here.

Is it fair to say that a mother will always opt for saving her child, no matter what?. The mothering instinct is incredibly strong afterall and the child is often seen as being being more important to a mother than her own life. That is not to say that men do not feel the same way about their offspring, but I can understand why a man would save his wife instead. It may be his soul mate, his whole reason for being, someone he cannot live without. But what if its more than that, more scientific. Freud says that everything we do, we ultimately do for ourselves and our own benefit.

This is almost an identical premise to what happened in the film, I Robot, with Will Smith. In that instance a robot made the logical choice to save the hero instead of a child. Maybe unknowingly, this man made a purely logical choice based on a number of factors like, the time in the river, the age of the victims and the chances of survival. The brain can do some amazing things and it’s not until we are tested that we see evidence of it in action, maybe at that moment the part of the brain that we do not fully understand did a calculation and this was the result. In addition, given the fact that you can have more children, he perhaps logically made the correct overall decision.

Truth is we can never really know the answer and it is unfair to judge this man based on what he did, but judge him many people will do, unable to get past the fact that, in their eyes, he let his child die.

But going forward what will life be like for this couple?

Watching the interview, with the husband and wife side by side in grief, I suddenly realised that they may never get over this. I can envisage a time in the future that the wife blames the husband for the choice he made. I can see questions arising about whether he felt the same love for his son as she did. I can see hatred rearing its ugly head and dividing this couple straight down the middle. She may not see that in saving her he made the ultimate sacrifice for her, one that he believed and hoped he could live with. In a way I suppose it is the ultimate compliment, someone risking their own life to save you, dragging you out of a car and knowing that his son lay dying feet away. This man had to live with the absolute moment of realisation, when he saw that he couldn’t get to his boy, when he realised he couldn’t save him.

When the arguments start, I fear all of these factors will be forgotten. It will simply come down to one basic fact – ‘you let our child die, a child who had so much more to live for than me’.

I hope this couple get through what they are about to go through. I hope that they can reach a level of understanding and not make the tragedy mean anything in particular. It doesn’t mean he didn’t love his son, it didn’t mean he loved his wife more. It didn’t mean anything. At that moment, when the car went into the lake he went into automatic, his brain studied the situation and made the choice for him. His body followed the instructions sent and he saved a life.

And that is what is important

Asking this man why he did what he did isn’t.

In the same situation, what would you honestly do?


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2 Responses to “A dilemma you don’t need”

  1. As a woman, I am very much drawn to this story and also the decisions of the father and husband. I have read so many advice threads where a lot of women ask difficult questions about how to navigate through family crises. Sometimes the woman is wrong and selfish and too demanding of her spouse or children, but many more times it is the male. That being said, my point is that there are few stories publicized like this one where the family man must make a terrible choice. The ones where he is the hero usually come about because he died in the process of trying to save everyone. We must remember all of our humanity in a situation like this. There are motives, unsaid family tensions, even legal ramifications, but we should remember that at least he managed to save one person. Both of them will have to live with his decision, and they may never fully recover. So should he have died trying to save both? He might not have saved anyone then, and also perished. No one can really know what it was like and we need to step back from our high holy judgment, whether all the facts come to light or not.

  2. wow….i pray never to face with such choice…..my son must live but hey,my wife is my better part but my child?…..lord,this is HARD.

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