Would you give change to a homeless drug-addict?

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

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There is a fine line between logic and emotion, and quite often one defies the other. Logic told me the man would use the money he collected to buy more heroin, and that therefore it was wrong, and would be enabling him. But the other part of me knew there was a very slim chance he would at least spend some of it on a hot drink, or something useful, and that I would feel guilty if I just walked past impassively. I knew he was a drug addict from his eyes, his skeletal appearance, the marks, when you’ve seen it all before you know the signs.

I’m not “soft” in a sunshine-and-rainbows, crying at rom-coms, Mother Teresa type way. But I always put myself in another person’s shoes, allowing me to empathise and weigh this with logic. I never just walk past and ignore a homeless person begging for change, or even a charity fundraiser standing neglected with their hopeful bucket, I always give change even if it’s just a little. Does this say something about what kind of a Doctor I will make? I don’t know, but it says something for the way I balance logic with emotion.

In my opinion it is wrong to assume that all homeless people begging for change are drug addicts, and therefore morally wrong to deny them change solely on that basis. Furthermore if they are a drug addict, why are they any less deserving of loose change? As distasteful as it is to enable them, or make any contribution to the grotesque drug business (where someone is always profiting, and others are always losing; their lives, their bodies, their minds or their homes), the beggar has no control over their addiction, and could die from the cold-turkey withdrawal.

Of course, giving them help would be better than giving them change; establishments exist to help drug addicts and homeless people, there are soup kitchens, shelters, Methadone programmes. But nothing is perfect, just as there is no perfect way to handle the scenario laid out in this post, do you:

– Walk past and ignore

– Give them change without knowing whether they are a drug addict or not

– Give them change knowing they are a drug addict (Are the above options doing indirect harm or good?)

– Offer friendly advice about programmes that could benefit them. (Or is this intrusive?)

– Offer to buy food for them rather than give them change (I’ve heard stories of people doing this when they suspect that the money they give would be spent on drugs, therefore this acts as a sort of test, but is this morally sound or not?)

The truth is there is no definite universally applicable right or wrong, it’s all down to the individual. But I find ethics very interesting, and the way empathetic impulses or emotions can lead to views being solidified as law, that is why the law is always changing, particularly medical laws, think about euthanasia, how new cases affect our human rights.

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2 responses

  1. That’s a kind post. Well, I sometimes offer food, sometimes if I’m in a hurry I give change, and sometimes I say no and feel very guilty. I don’t know what the right thing to do is but ‘put yourself in their shoes’ sounds like the right direction to go.

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