In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.
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Ever wondered why, after you give a small gift to a charity, you get a request for another gift almost immediately? Or how all these charities find you — even though you’ve just moved a few weeks earlier?
When your favorite nonprofit isn’t busy saving the whales, chances are it’s making a serious behind-the-scenes effort to know you better — using increasingly sophisticated technology. It can survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. If it’s really on the ball, the charity can even get an email alert when your stock holdings double.
But when your hospital does all this research on you, while you lie sick in their bed, is it unethical? If they find out that you are a potentially big donor, will you get preferential treatment?
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says it’s hard to justify “golden runways” that whisk donors past waiting lists. During treatment and recovery, he adds, patients may feel too vulnerable to refuse a solicitation.
I’m not bothered by this too much: Charities and non-profits struggle to raise money in tough economic times. And since so many of us post so much information online for the world to see, it’s bound to be used to size us up in most every situation. But I’d certainly be peeved if a blinged out woman was bumped ahead of me in line for a life-saving procedure. Is there a way to avoid this moral hazard?