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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gad Saad

The Falling Man of 9/11

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Last night, I watched a haunting documentary titled The Falling Man. It recounts the story behind the now iconic and tragic photo of a human being who made an unimaginable decision on 9/11: Stay put on his floor at one of the two doomed Twin Towers and be burned alive and possibly suffocate from smoke inhalation or jump to his death from a bewildering height. The individual in question chose the latter, which photographer Richard Drew captured so horrifyingly on that fateful day. As I watched the film, I was overcome with renewed sadness and unbridled anger at such a dreadful reality. That morning, 19 hijackers fully parasitized by religious hate, had decided that of all possible life trajectories, the slaughter of thousands of innocent people was the optimal one for them to take.

In any case, the documentary raised two ethical decisions, both of which are very difficult to resolve. First, was it ethical to have published the photo in question? There are very compelling arguments on both sides of the debate. On the one hand, the photo is a poignant historical record of the horrors of that day. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is à propos here. On the other hand, the photo captures a very private moment, namely the last few seconds of a man’s life. There is something freakishly voyeuristic about being a witness to that frozen moment in time. Second, was it ethical to try and identify the Falling Man? Again, there are no clear-cut answers. To identify the person in question might bring solace to his family or it might constitute a trespassing of his fundamental right to privacy. I have spent all day thinking about these two questions, and I must say that I am somewhat stuck in that I can truly see the pros and cons of all sides of these two debates. I suppose that one way to help resolve these ethical conundrums is to decide whether a consequentialist or deontological approach is warranted here. This may not yield a definitive answer but at the very least it offers a framework for tackling these difficult debates. What are your thoughts?



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