Death Zone - The White Mile Version

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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An Englishman was left to die and passed by some 40 people who continued their quest to climb Mt. Everest rather than abandon their climb in order to attempt a rescue. Climb Every Mountain Does anyone find this a little disturbing?
 

Thanatoast

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Dec 3, 2002
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That'll be a great story for their grandchilren.

"Yeah, we had to leave a man to die, but we made the summit! Got some pictures, too!"

bleh
 

UKnjb

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May 23, 2005
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I agree totally with this from the BBC, by a medical ethicist.

The ethics of climbing Everest
The triumph of mountaineer Mark Inglis, who last week became the first double amputee to climb Everest, has been soured by the news he left a dying climber to his fate. Ethicist Daniel Sokol asks whether he was right to do so.

One of Malcolm Bradbury's novels is entitled Eating People is Wrong. In normal circumstances, it is also wrong to abandon dying people.

Yet, as the saying goes, "circumstances alter cases" and it is not clear whether New Zealander Mark Inglis, a double amputee, and the 39 other climbers in his group committed a moral wrong by abandoning the expiring David Sharpe on Everest.

Were they right to leave him behind? The answer depends on the circumstances. Clearly, there are times when it would be plain foolish to attempt a rescue. A lifeguard cannot be expected to dive into shark-infested waters to save a imprudent swimmer.

One factor in the decision-making is thus the probable risk to the rescuers. Would the attempted rescue have posed a serious risk to the climbers? The answer appears to be no.

The main defence put by Mark Inglis is not that the rescuers would have put themselves at risk but that David Sharpe was "effectively dead". Frozen, he could only move his eyes. If this diagnosis is correct, it is extremely unlikely that he would have survived the descent. No amount of help would have saved his life.

Hour of need
Yet it seems that the climbers viewed the decision as a choice between leaving him behind and attempting a rescue.

An act is morally justified if you can show it was the right thing to do, but excusable if the circumstances were such that you cannot really be blamed
Daniel Sokol

There was a third option: to stay with him until the end. If saving his life was impossible, then surely the second best option was for some of the 40 climbers to comfort him in his last moments. This would have been a compassionate solution.

At 8,500m and -38C, in considerable physical and emotional discomfort, in a group of 40 climbers whose life ambition is to reach the top, and with maybe only enough oxygen for a direct climb to the summit, it is perhaps excusable that no-one volunteered to stay behind.

These extreme meteorological, psychological and social conditions should be taken into account when evaluating the climbers' decision. It is too easy to lay blame on the climbers by appealing to abstract moral principles and high-sounding virtues.

Decisions are not made in a vacuum, but in specific circumstances, and few can be as adverse and traumatic as those faced by the climbers.

Moral philosophers sometimes make a distinction between a justifiable act and an excusable one. An act is morally justified if you can show that it was the right thing to do. An act is excusable if, even though what you did was wrong, the circumstances were such that you cannot really be blamed.

So, for example, a liar can claim that he only lied because he was forced to lie by a threatening and powerful friend, or because he was talking in his sleep, or because he feared the truth would cause his beloved wife to leave him. In some cases, it is difficult to distinguish the justifiable from the merely excusable.

Although few people know exactly what happened on Mount Everest that fateful day last week, it seems that the decision to abandon Mr Sharpe was, if not justified, at least excusable. Only an exceptional person would have willingly chosen to stay behind to comfort the dying man. Blame is not an appropriate response to this tragedy.

Daniel K Sokol is a medical ethicist at the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine, London.
 

Chip NoVaMac

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Dec 25, 2003
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xsedrinam said:
The comments made by Sir Edmund Hillary seem to resonate more with me on this one.
Amen, we seem to be more about personal goals now than what is right for the individual. Too much pride and money involved. Too bad that manslaughter charges can't be brought against those that went on with little concern of this one climber.
 

UKnjb

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May 23, 2005
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Chip NoVaMac said:
Amen, we seem to be more about personal goals now than what is right for the individual. Too much pride and money involved. Too bad that manslaughter charges can't be brought against those that went on with little concern of this one climber.
i agree that those principles apply in general, and at sea-level in particular, but there are circumstances where different values apply. At high altitudes, like the Death Zone of Everest (given that name for a reason), is where those principles become modified. The Brit who died, David Sharpe, was essentially 'dead' when discovered - no oxygen, frozen flesh, exposed etc. At those altitudes, where judgement is severely impaired even with full oxygen and protection, survival is not guaranteed, not for anyone.

Don't know how many MR members have experienced high altitude conditions, but I would ask how you would handle this hypothetical sea-level problem. You are standing by the shore of a rapid, white-water river, with a dangerous water-fall 50 yards downstream. You see a child being whipped along in the middle of the river, shouting "Help!" and going down for th third time. You are a poor swimmer and it is doubtful if you could swim to the child before it reaches the water-fall. Do you jump in to try and save him/her? Or do you make a value judgement that the child is 'lost' and you shouldn't compound the tragedy by essentially killing yourself?

If you didn't jump in and try, would you expect to get tried for manslaughter?

To get a fuller over-view of just how things can go so tragically wrong at high altitude climbing, and where all of these perspectives get illustrated and explored, read the totally gripping account, Into Thin Air, of the 1996 Everest disaster, where so many people died.
 

Mr. Durden

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Jan 13, 2005
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UKnjb said:
i agree that those principles apply in general, and at sea-level in particular, but there are circumstances where different values apply. At high altitudes, like the Death Zone of Everest (given that name for a reason), is where those principles become modified. The Brit who died, David Sharpe, was essentially 'dead' when discovered - no oxygen, frozen flesh, exposed etc. At those altitudes, where judgement is severely impaired even with full oxygen and protection, survival is not guaranteed, not for anyone.

Don't know how many MR members have experienced high altitude conditions, but I would ask how you would handle this hypothetical sea-level problem. You are standing by the shore of a rapid, white-water river, with a dangerous water-fall 50 yards downstream. You see a child being whipped along in the middle of the river, shouting "Help!" and going down for th third time. You are a poor swimmer and it is doubtful if you could swim to the child before it reaches the water-fall. Do you jump in to try and save him/her? Or do you make a value judgement that the child is 'lost' and you shouldn't compound the tragedy by essentially killing yourself?

If you didn't jump in and try, would you expect to get tried for manslaughter?

To get a fuller over-view of just how things can go so tragically wrong at high altitude climbing, and where all of these perspectives get illustrated and explored, read the totally gripping account, Into Thin Air, of the 1996 Everest disaster, where so many people died.

Ditto. The only difference I can see is that the article says the 40 other climbers werent in any imminent danger. So would it have been more dangerous for them to stay with the dieing guy for another hour or however long it took him to expire? I'd have a hard time condeming them, but at the same time I think I would have had a hard time just walking on past a dieing man and not even offering some sort of comfort.
 

UKnjb

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- last para from Dr Sokol above - Although few people know exactly what happened on Mount Everest that fateful day last week, it seems that the decision to abandon Mr Sharpe was, if not justified, at least excusable. Only an exceptional person would have willingly chosen to stay behind to comfort the dying man. Blame is not an appropriate response to this tragedy.
I agree so much with you -- in principle. However, as Dr Sokol stated (and has been emphasised in so many accounts of high-altitude climbing, especially that by Jon Krakauer above) we just do not know what was happening when the other climbers came upon Mr Sharpe. In the comfort of my own home, I would like to think that I would stay and offer support to a dying man. In practice, with the possibility that conditions were deteriorating by the minute and my own (and my colleagues' own survival maybe in question), I suspect that I would make an (impaired) judgement call that there was nothing I could do --- and I would leave him and save my own skin. Sorry.
 

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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mactastic said:
Yeah, I gotta go with Hillary's take. He's been there.
And had lots of reflection time to go with it. My head may be in the clouds, but it seems like good samaritanism shouldn't necessarily be restricted to a sea level only operation. Coulds and shoulds are safely tucked away in the subjunctive world of speculation. Could one out of 40 passersby have saved him or aided him in any way? That's now moot. Should the regard for human life and responsible action take priority over another's felt need for self preservation and accomplishment in order to sacrificially take risk in the effort to come to the aid of the fallen and weak? I would think the voices of many an unsung heroic deed would answer "absolutely"!
 

LethalWolfe

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Jan 11, 2002
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Chip NoVaMac said:
Amen, we seem to be more about personal goals now than what is right for the individual. Too much pride and money involved. Too bad that manslaughter charges can't be brought against those that went on with little concern of this one climber.
So people should be legally obligated to help those in distress? That's kinda f'd up.


Lethal
 

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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LethalWolfe said:
So people should be legally obligated to help those in distress? That's kinda f'd up.


Lethal
Ya, I wouldn't think the framework has much to do with anything legal, in fact that would tend to mock an already pathetic situation. It seems (to me anyway) to be more of an ethical and moral issue.
 

Bruce Matthews

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Jun 2, 2006
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UKnjb said:
I agree totally with this from the BBC, by a medical ethicist.
G'day Blue

I agree with all of your sentiments regarding this subject...I look forward to the reports from those who were there!

"I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it" - (Hamlet. Act II, Scene IV).

I love your signature. However, it was Celia in As you like it. ActII, Scene IV...time to make the change :)
 

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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Chip NoVaMac said:
Was it this climber or a different one in the news late this week that actually was left for dead, but survived?
This one was an Aussie climber, Lincoln Hall, who was left for dead. He survived it and is recuperating in a hospital.
 

dornoforpyros

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Oct 19, 2004
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it's pretty damned easy to sit behind your keyboard and go "oh those monsters, how dare they leave a fellow human being to die"

On top of a mountain where your breathing oxygen from a bottle just to survive, and your trekking through snow, it's a different story.
 

Chip NoVaMac

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Dec 25, 2003
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dornoforpyros said:
it's pretty damned easy to sit behind your keyboard and go "oh those monsters, how dare they leave a fellow human being to die"

On top of a mountain where your breathing oxygen from a bottle just to survive, and your trekking through snow, it's a different story.
Maybe so.

But we are talking about those that paid big bucks to reach the summit, and will let nothing stand in their way of that goal.

The difference is that we are not talking about a true fight for survival. Meaning that these people were not part of a plane crash as an example.

Yes, they all chose to do the climb. And yes, they knew the risks. But personal achievement should not trump the caring for a fellow traveler.

But that is my view. I will not try to be too harsh on those that feel differently. In the end I believe that there is a Higher Authority that we will have to answer to in the end.

For myself, I would like to think that I would have done what I could, at the sacrifice of personal achievement, to provide comfort and aid in either situation.

But then again, people that participate in these types of endeavors, are true Type A personalities. And only the strongest survive.

I myself would have sacrificed my time in London, if the gal I met on the flight to Iceland, fell ill in Iceland. That would have been all about the journey for me IMO. :)
 

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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dornoforpyros said:
it's pretty damned easy to sit behind your keyboard and go "oh those monsters, how dare they leave a fellow human being to die"

On top of a mountain where your breathing oxygen from a bottle just to survive, and your trekking through snow, it's a different story.
It's not any more difficult to sit behind your keyboard and say they should. That's not the issue.
 

UKnjb

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Bruce Matthews said:
I love your signature. However, it was Celia in As you like it. ActII, Scene IV...time to make the change :)
G'day yourself, Bruce!!! Thanks for the support and ---- as for the rest---- Hmmm. YOU get the prize for spotting a deliberate (not) literary mistake and I had better correct things right now. :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:
There's no cool way out of this one, is there?
 

Lord Blackadder

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May 7, 2004
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I agree with Hillary that it is wrong to simply pass by a climber in distress with out at least assessing the situation and determining whether anything can be done.

At the same time, it has been repeatedly stated by experienced climbers that it is extremely hazardous to attempt to bring an incapacitated person down - if they can't move under their own power, they are likely to doom their would-be rescuers who will fatally exhaust themselves trying to help.

Also, many (probably most) of the people who climb Everest shouldn't be there - they are way out of their league physically and mentally and taking a tremendous risk just to say they've done it. Many guides will happily take their money but the volume of unqualified people going up that mountain every year is far too high for the climbers' safety or the local ecology. Unfortunately it is the main contributor to the regional economy so the traffic jam on Everest is unlikely to stop in the near future.

The climbers that left the man to die are not doing anything particularly new - even had they stopped it is unlikely that they could have done more than watch him die. I personally would have wanted to do something, but the reality is that little can be done in those conditions, especially when many of the climbers are not as experienced or fit as perhaps they should be (the man was a double amputee, which hardly makes him fit to take part in a rescue personally).

So I can sympathize with both sides. I dislike the tourist traffic on Everest; this overcrowding by marginally experienced climbers causes most of the deaths that occur. At the same time I think that people often have incorrect ideas about how much can be done to rescue a climber on Everest. I think that Hillary was criticising them because they did not investigate the situation enough - there was never a question that they could carry the man down. It is simply not safe.
 

xsedrinam

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Oct 21, 2004
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Lord Blackadder said:
I agree with Hillary that it is wrong to simply pass by a climber in distress with out at least assessing the situation and determining whether anything can be done.

At the same time, it has been repeatedly stated by experienced climbers that it is extremely hazardous to attempt to bring an incapacitated person down...
I think this is a well articulated and fair assessment of the one scenario. But with the second, fellow climbers DID perform rescue and successfully so, even though the fallen climber was left for dead by his original team. This seems to me that "assumptions" and judgment calls are not necessarily based upon adverse environmental conditions, but rather are left to the discretion of the individuals who climb.

I would certainly agree there seem to be too many inexperienced and perhaps not well thought out attempts to summit Everest. These two incidents happening so close to one another may also serve as a knock on the door to prompt some policy changes.
 

Lord Blackadder

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May 7, 2004
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Sod off
The recent (and admittedly miraculous) rescue on Everest was only possible becuse the climber in question was still able to move under his own power - had he been partly or fully incapacitated he would have died.

Still, without doubt I'm sure the attentions of the climbers who found him the next morning were vital in getting him down. It's a tough choice but to me also a simple one - know your limits and don't exceed them if you wish to survive. Many of the climbers on that mountain are barely capable of making it themselves and any attempt at participation in a rescue would be suicidal at best, and at worst might cost the lives of other would-be rescuers as well.

I find it a little difficult to personally blame the amputee climber for not stopping to help (if he truly felt that stopping was not safe), but if his own safety was truly so tenuous that he couldn't even stop, then he really should not have been on the mountain in the first place.