Bioethics Blogs

Some thoughts on reparations

Consider the following case. Imagine you inherit a fortune from your parents. With that money, you buy a luxurious house and you pay to get a good education, which later allows you to find a job where you earn a decent salary. Many years later, you find out that your parents made their fortune through a very bad act—say, defrauding someone. You also find out that the scammed person and his family lived an underprivileged life from that moment on.

What do you think you would need to do to fulfill your moral obligations?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. Nothing. After all, you are not to blame for your parents’ moral faults. You have no moral obligations because, even though you benefited from the fraud, you did it unknowingly and innocently.
  1. Find the scammed person and give her your house (or the money you get from it after selling it). It is a way of returning at least part of the fortune to its rightful owner. There is no need to return the money you spent on your education because education is not something that can be sold or transferred. If the wronged person has died, your moral obligations died with her.
  1. Find the wronged person and give her your house (or the money you get from it after selling it). If the person has died, you should give that money to her descendants, who are the rightful heirs to the stolen fortune. Children of the wronged person are bound to have inherited at least some of the difficulties and pain that resulted from the scam, and they too deserve to have at least some of their fortune returned.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.