Keep in mind that this will be a very simple example of a very complex issue. Get your old Philosophy 101 text books out, college grads.
Imagine I’m about to take a mission trip to an impoverished area. My goal is to help the people of this area out with their day-to-day lives and I have a vast amount of money and resources at my disposal. Now, let’s assume that this area is in a desert and people have to survive under these circumstances. I’m going to take a lot of clean, bottled water. I’m going to take rainwater collecting basins to help them collect and store water. I’ll bring tools to help them establish effective irrigation ditches for their farming. I’m going to bring shelters that are conducive to the climate as well. There’ll be the best medical supplies that money can buy, and I’m even going to teach them how to read. That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
Now, let’s also imagine that, because of the extreme sun in this desert climate that people who live and work in this area suffer from extreme cases of melanoma (which causes approximately 75% of all skin cancer related deaths). As they grow old, the people of this land develop extremely painful moles that ulcerate and bleed. Eventually, the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and other organs within the body before it very slowly and painfully kills its victims. Now, the worst part of this disease is that it’s also genetic. Every time the people in this village breed, they further embed the gene that makes their decedents more susceptible to developing this terrible disease.
Now, I know that one of the most effective ways to help prevent developing melanoma is to use sunscreen. Using a sunscreen over SPF 30 has shown that it can reduce cases of skin-related cancers. However, due to my personal beliefs and sensibilities (for whatever reasons), I refuse to offer sunscreen as a preventative measure to these people. Instead, I offer alternatives that may work (stay out of the sun between peak sun hours of 9AM to 3PM, wear long sleeved shirts and pants), but are much more unreasonable. I give them long sleeved shirts and UV blocking fabric for their huts. However, with temperatures consistently in the hundreds, wearing long sleeved clothing is out of the question and not working between peak sun hours is simply not an option.
So, as a result of my personal convictions, an opportunity to raise the quality of life and potentially save lives within this village is lost. Villagers have to continue to work out in the sun to live. Even with the attempt to wear long sleeved clothing, they still develop lesions on the exposed areas of their bodies and damn their future generation with the cancer susceptible gene.
My question that I’d like to pose to you is this: How accountable should I be held for having the knowledge and capability to stop a terrible disease from spreading, but, because of my personal beliefs, decide not to give these people the resources to help them improve the quality of their and their future children’s lives?