This ethical dilemma comes from a (presumably) real-world question sent in to Gawker. It caught my attention because we’ve talked about the mental model of information asymmetry, and this is an excellent example of how it plays out in life, as well as the six most common biological sexes found in humans.
The Ethical Dilemma:
“I’ve been best friends with two people since childhood – “Beth” and “Carrie.” About a year and a half ago, Beth started dating a guy, and promptly fell head over heels for him. Beth thinks that he may ask her to marry him. One thing that he doesn’t know about Beth is that Beth was born “Burt” – she had gender reassignment surgery shortly after finishing college. Beth has told us that she doesn’t plan on telling him this; Carrie believes that not telling him is wrong and has told me privately that if Beth doesn’t tell the guy about it, she will. Is that okay?” [Source: Gawker]
There are a host of unknown factors not mentioned. Has Beth informed her soon-to-be-fiancé of her infertility? Is that relevant to the marriage? Likewise, a majority of states in the United States do not consider gender reassignment surgery to be “real” and they also ban same-sex marriage, meaning that the fiancé will find himself in a situation where he may suddenly lose spousal inheritance rights, medical rights, and a host of other rights depending on the geographic area in which he ultimately lives. Is that relevant to the marriage? Telling the fiancé could destroy his relationship. Some people are happier remaining in ignorance. Telling the fiancé could ruin your friendship with Beth, whom you presumably love and enjoy having in your life (why else be friends?). Gender reassignment surgery requires on-going hormonal injections for life, which is an important medical and financial consideration. Is that relevant to the marriage? If this person becomes the husband of one of your best friends, it is likely you might develop a close friendship with him, as well, resulting in a future allegiance conflict depending upon your choice today.
Assuming the boyfriend does propose to your friend, Beth, and becomes the fiancé:
1. Would you inform him yourself?
2. Would you do nothing and let Carrie inform him, as she has made known her plan?
3. If the situation were reversed, would you want someone to inform you prior to marriage?
4. If someone did know prior to marriage, and didn’t inform you, how would you feel upon discovering it years later?
5. Do you have any obligation to Beth to keep her secret?
6. If you opt not to tell, or to actively stop Carrie from informing the fiancé, are your decisions made on the basis of doing what you believe to be right or an attempt to avoid social conflict?
Think about it. Answer for yourself in private. Or talk amongst yourselves.
By thinking through ethical dilemmas, it is often easy to identify flaws in one’s own thought process, areas of bias, as well as to reveal your true motivations, priorities, and values. They are one of the most valuables tools I use in my own arsenal to improve clarity of thought.