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Having sex with your sibling...

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kufa
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I just watched a House MD episode which brought up some incredibly interesting ethical question. I am incredibly interested to see the responses on here. To make a semi-quick summarization: A young inter-racial, married couple has the same disease. They lived next door to eachother, and fell in love. The husband's father was against the relationship, he would do anything to keep them apart, the couple figured it was because he hated blacks. Nope, turned out it was because he had an affair with the girls mother and she resulted. So this head-over-heels in love couple are siblings. The doctors tell them, and of course, it messes up their lives horribly. *btw, the girl was a light skinned African American.

My questions are:

1)If you were in the situation, would you keep dating your half-sibling? Perhaps the more relevant question for the situation is: is relation a valid reason for not romantically pursuing someone?

My answer: I really don't think I would continue dating my bro. Chances are I'd be like: "Damn, I screwed my brother! Bro, no wonder we looked alike!" Seriously, Evoloution tells us not to, diseases get transfered on to offspring that way, which in turn creates oftentime sickly, messed up kids. On the other hand, if we didn't plan on having children, I can not see any valid scientific reason not to continue. I see a definate sociological reason not to, its taboo. It has been for quite some time. But I tend to think anything to do with Sociology is crap.

and 2)If you were the doctor, would you tell them?

A: I would tell them. I don't buy into the "Ignorance is bliss, let them be happy" side of things. The couple deserves to have that choice in their own lives.

What do you guys think?

Edited by kufa
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If you are a doctor, I think it is your ethical duty to inform them of their blood relations.

But yes, the couple should be allowed to choose whether to continue, especially if they don't plan on having kids.

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I think as far as passing on diseases to your kids go it's not even *that* much of a deal in most cases. Especially nowadays it's fairly easy to get tested beforehand to see if there's a good (say 25% because you're both carrying a recessive gene) chance your child might end up with some sort of inherited disease. The day is not very far off when they can just run markers on all the most important genetic disabilities, and you'd know beforehand if that chance was acceptable to you.

As far as genetic variability goes, you're (not counting crossover events during meiosis, which add further variability) a 50% match to either of your parents (because you have one of their two chromosomes). Your siblings generally have a different combination of your parents' chromosomes so it is not nearly as bad to have children with a sibling as compared to a clone of yourself (if identical twins could have kids together, that'd be interesting :P)

However, the increased chance for passing on recessive traits isn't all bad; there are those recessive traits which are either neutral or even positive. If certain things like intelligence are at least partially genetic then it makes sense that your local gene pool might be above average for that trait (if you are very intelligent as well).

As far as social taboos go, I don't think that's enough of a reason not to do something. If you think that marrying your sister or close cousin is the right thing to do, then you should, and let society be damned. Especially in the case where you do not plan to have children or cannot (if either person is infertile or if the couple is gay) it matters even less because the only rational reason against it disappears.

However, I think in most cases growing up together in the usual manner (as brother and sister) it could be very difficult to become romantically interested in the other person. But it does happen sometimes and I can't really see a reason why it's something you should avoid doing on principle.

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Well, of course the doctor should tell the patients the truth. Ignorance is not bliss.

As for the couple, the taboo situation could make it a bit awkward. But if they do not plan on having children, there really isn't an evolutionary problem. But my question is: why didn't the father just tell his kids that they were siblings?? Surely things would not have progressed romantically if he did so.

Edited by Mimpy
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But my question is: why didn't the father just tell his kids that they were siblings?? Surely things would not have progressed romantically if he did so.

I agree. This is just another reminder that withholding the truth from those deserving of the truth is ultimately not in one's rational self-interest. Sometimes the repercussions can be inexplicably bizarre.

But [incestual relationships between siblings do] happen sometimes and I can't really see a reason why it's something you should avoid doing on principle.

I think there are other objective reasons to avoid such a relationship in addition to the potential reproductive consequences. As we can observe from human interaction, romantic relationships, especially very controversial ones, can sometimes be volatile and unfortunately have a tumultuous and hostile termination. To involve yourself in an incestuous relationship can often mean risking eventual alienation from your family.

Please do not misconstrue my expressed concern as advocation for letting others dictate your romantic endeavors.

Edited by DarkWaters
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I think there are other objective reasons to avoid such a relationship in addition to the potential reproductive consequences. As we can observe from human interaction, romantic relationships, especially very controversial ones, can sometimes be volatile and unfortunately have a tumultuous and hostile termination. To involve yourself in an incestuous relationship can often mean risking eventual alienation from your family.

Please do not misconstrue my expressed concern as advocation for letting others dictate your romantic endeavors.

I do not think that this reason alone would be sufficient to make an otherwise excellent relationship bad, though. Furthermore, whether the breakup will be bad is something one can forecast relatively well if one knows enough about the other person. So I think it is possible to weigh how much of an actual risk this is for your relationship. In most of the relationships we are currently discussing I'd say that would be the case: you should know your close family's mental processes well enough to know whether they'd go all hostile on you if it went bad.

Anyway, I think that is something that can occur just as well in other relationships, although you have a point that the potential fallout matters less in those instances.

As for the societal taboo: there is really no reason why most people would even know about it, is there? You're not obligated to discuss such matters with complete strangers, and especially if you live nowhere near the place you grew up there are likely to be few people who'd know the truth. In that case I don't think even the community's disapproval will be an issue.

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To involve yourself in an incestuous relationship can often mean risking eventual alienation from your family.

Why should one necessarily care about that? I would think that that would only matter if you values them. If one does not value them then there should be no problem with alienation. Besides if my family - or anyone else for that matter - wanted to alienate me because they did not like my choice for love - and I am talking any choice here, not just siblings - then I would say good ridance because I don't care for people trying to seperate me and my lover.

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1)If you were in the situation, would you keep dating your half-sibling?
No, my wife would kill me. Actually, I don't think genetic relationship is a rational reason to reject a romantic interest. The valid arguments for not dating a sister / daughter / mother are based on perversion of an existing familiar relationship (i.e. you really love her as a sister, and you're confused about the sister / date difference). I'm not persuaded that this claim about "inbreeding" has any scientific merit, and anyhow the purpose of a romantic relationship is not creating children.
If you were the doctor, would you tell them?
I don't think you should have asked the first question, because that's where the attention is probably going to be. I didn't see this episode, and you left out details. The big picture, as far as Dr. Nasty is concerned, is what his actual obligation to parties is. If he acquired the relevant information in a doctor-patient interaction, or under the implication that the information would be kept private, then he may not reveal the information. Assuming that he obtained the information from the father in the course of treating the son and the father volunteered the information, the question has to be whether there was an implication of confidentiality as a condition for revealing the information. My internet scan of materials doesn't suggest that there is any conventionalized ethical prohibition (although: the relevant part of the Hippocratic Oath -- "Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret" -- does not restrict confidentiality to just patients). Then the question reduces to whether Dr. Limpy said anything that suggested confidentiality, or whether such an assumption of confidentiality is "common knowledge" that the good Dr. should have know of. The point is that he has a professional duty to guard information which he obtained in his professional capacity. It is inconceivable (I guess) that the dad would have let the cat out of the bag to a stranger.

The other question is whether he has an obligation to reveal the information. If it's medically relevant for his patient, he would, otherwise he does not (and thus should not). Obviously the dad is the real problem.

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I don't think you should have asked the first question, because that's where the attention is probably going to be. I didn't see this episode, and you left out details. The big picture, as far as Dr. Nasty is concerned, is what his actual obligation to parties is. If he acquired the relevant information in a doctor-patient interaction, or under the implication that the information would be kept private, then he may not reveal the information. Assuming that he obtained the information from the father in the course of treating the son and the father volunteered the information, the question has to be whether there was an implication of confidentiality as a condition for revealing the information. My internet scan of materials doesn't suggest that there is any conventionalized ethical prohibition (although: the relevant part of the Hippocratic Oath -- "Whatever, in connection with my professional service, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret" -- does not restrict confidentiality to just patients). Then the question reduces to whether Dr. Limpy said anything that suggested confidentiality, or whether such an assumption of confidentiality is "common knowledge" that the good Dr. should have know of. The point is that he has a professional duty to guard information which he obtained in his professional capacity. It is inconceivable (I guess) that the dad would have let the cat out of the bag to a stranger.

The other question is whether he has an obligation to reveal the information. If it's medically relevant for his patient, he would, otherwise he does not (and thus should not). Obviously the dad is the real problem.

1. If I recall correctly he figured it out on his own as he often does.

2. House is often good at browbeating information out of patients or those connected to them when he thinks the information is medically relevant.

On a side note I remember there was debate in the episode about whether they are told. Does anyone recall if I am correct in thinking that Cameron was the one saying they should get told and that House was arguing not to tell them?

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I do not think that this reason alone would be sufficient to make an otherwise excellent relationship bad, though. Furthermore, whether the breakup will be bad is something one can forecast relatively well if one knows enough about the other person. So I think it is possible to weigh how much of an actual risk this is for your relationship.

Just so you know, I agree with this. I just wanted to identify another point of concern. That is, that plunging into a controversial relationship might strain your other relationships with individuals who are of great value to you.

As for the societal taboo: there is really no reason why most people would even know about it, is there? You're not obligated to discuss such matters with complete strangers, and especially if you live nowhere near the place you grew up there are likely to be few people who'd know the truth. In that case I don't think even the community's disapproval will be an issue.

We should not dismiss something significant, such as a romantic partnership, as a non-issue because individuals probably will not discover the questionable context in which it is under. This is an evasion of reality, which is never a good thing. When choosing a partner for romantic involvement, you must accept the reality of whatever social consequences there will be. This includes recognizing the possibility that a large mob of (possibly very irrational) individuals will dedicate their lives to persecuting both you and your partner in some perverse witch hunt.

Of course, whether individuals have any business knowing about the extent of your romantic relationship is another issue entirely. One which we are probably already in concordance.

Why should one necessarily care about that? I would think that that would only matter if you values them. If one does not value them then there should be no problem with alienation. Besides if my family - or anyone else for that matter - wanted to alienate me because they did not like my choice for love - and I am talking any choice here, not just siblings - then I would say good ridance because I don't care for people trying to seperate me and my lover.

Rest assured my comment was intended to be taken in the (unstated) context that one's immediate family is of significant value to the individual in question. My comments were not intended to imply some dogmatic edict such as "honor thy father".

Nobody wants to be in a predicament where one has to choose between two relationships of great value, such as a romantic relationship and a close familial relationship, because one or more parties involved refuse to continue the relationship so long as the other exists. Chances are if you are in such a dilemma then you have not properly assessed one of the parties involved. It is possible that you misread an individual as a greater value (say a parent) until you realized that they would demand that you ended a relationship of great value to you. It is also possible that the other party (say your lover) is not who you think they are and your family member or friend sees that this relationship as so destructive for you that they cannot bear to see you continue it.

As you probably agree, these situations are often of great importance and are highly contextual. One cannot answer all such cases with a general statement.

Edited by DarkWaters
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When I posted this, I was ambivalent. After reading the responses, I've shifted towards Incest. I think most people, like I did, think automatically, "Eww, that is really gross." But upon more thought, theres, like many have said, no rational reason not to date your sibling. Too bad none of my relatives are good looking! :P

Does anyone recall if I am correct in thinking that Cameron was the one saying they should get told and that House was arguing not to tell them?

Wrong, House was debating for it, either Cameron or Foreman didn't want to tell. I'm leaning towards Cameron though, because later on in the episode, Foreman told the couple that they could still continue dating and it wouldn't be wrong. I've got the DVD, so I'll watch the last few scenes later.

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No, my wife would kill me. Actually, I don't think genetic relationship is a rational reason to reject a romantic interest. The valid arguments for not dating a sister / daughter / mother are based on perversion of an existing familiar relationship (i.e. you really love her as a sister, and you're confused about the sister / date difference). I'm not persuaded that this claim about "inbreeding" has any scientific merit, and anyhow the purpose of a romantic relationship is not creating children.

Could you explain what you mean with perverting the existing familiar relationship?

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Dumb Latin words. I meant "familial", i.e. "the relationship between family members".

I understood that (the typo might even have been mine), but I wanted to know why that relationship is perverted. What are your reasons for saying that it would be perverted, as opposed to, for example, changed or upgraded.

I don't see why a person couldn't simply conclude, in some cases, that having a romantic relationship would make their familial relationship (in a more general sense) just plain better? If the new relationship furthers their life more than the old one, I don't see how we could call it perverted by any meaning of the word.

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but I wanted to know why that relationship is perverted. What are your reasons for saying that it would be perverted, as opposed to, for example, changed or upgraded.
I'm not claiming that a sexual relationship with a family member is automatically perverted, I'm saying that it's wrong to misunderstand familial love and think that what you have is really romantic love. Destroying one kind of relationship and relacing it with a different one, based on a misunderstanding of the relationship, is the perversion.
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I rewatched the end. Cameron and Foreman were arguing about it initially. Cameron wanted to tell the patient, Foreman didn't. Later, House told Foreman to tell the patients, or else he would.

Yeah, I thought Cameron would of wanted to tell them. That is the way she usually feels about that sort of thing. It would be out of character for her to argue against doing so. It does seem odd that House would want to tell them though.

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