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AC360º contributor and The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek
Angelina and Brad are the latest in a long line of celebrities clamoring to sell photos of their babies to the highest bidder. Apparently, this is perfectly legal to do.
But it’s still wrong. Here’s why.
First, the fact that we have a legal right to do something doesn’t mean that it’s right to do it. For example, you wouldn’t be breaking the law if you routinely broke lunch dates with friends when something better came along, but it’s wrong to do such a thing. Ethics holds us to a higher standard than the law does; it calls upon us to “live our best lives.”
Second, a parent’s most important responsibility is to be concerned primarily with protecting the interests of his or her child. It is a severe violation of this responsibility to sell photos of one’s child to the highest bidder.
“But what if that money goes to charity?,” some ask. Ethically, this doesn’t matter, because evil must not be done so that good may come of it. If the police randomly searched citizens without cause, they would probably find drugs, guns, and other contraband from time to time. However, our society justifiably deplores this, because the rights of innocent people to be left alone takes precedence over whatever good might come from shaking down people at will. Thus even if the proceeds from the sale of baby photos could lead to a cure for cancer, the elimination of famine in Africa, or other desirable goals, it is important to be concerned about how we achieve these ends.
Third, infants are not capable of providing an informed consent to having their pictures taken and sold to the tabloids (or anywhere else, for that matter). Because they don’t have the ability to weigh the pro’s and con’s of such an undertaking, society entrusts parents to make good decisions on their children’s behalf. A child whose parents sell pictures of her for financial gain, or even to benefit a worthwhile cause, might grow up to feel that her parents violated a basic trust. And it would be perfectly understandable for a child to feel this way.
Of course, it’s not merely celebrities who are to blame for this deplorable practice. Without a public whose appetite for such inanities seems to know no limits, the supply would soon dry up. But the public has greater power to stop the practice than it might like to believe. The outcry last year over the News Corporation’s decision to publish O.J. Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” led that company to cancel the deal (although the book resurfaced later in altered form, which I have commented upon elsewhere).
If the decision of celebrities to sell photos of their infants for astronomical sums offends your moral sensibilities, don’t just quietly seethe about it. Refuse to purchase magazines containing these images. Write a letter to the editor expressing your concerns. Send an e-mail to the celebrities in question and respectfully take issue with the practice. When we encounter something we believe is an injustice, we not only have a right to speak up. We have an obligation to do so.
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