As entertaining as the New York Times’ The Ethicist is, I find myself disagreeing with Randy Cohen’s conclusions rather often. I think the first question he answered in this week’s column is too complicated to be boiled down to a two paragraph response. However, that is not my real concern.
In writing about a parent’s dilemma about whether or not a child should be allowed to smoke marijuana on a family trip to the Netherlands, Cohen makes the following comparison:
While there may still be good reasons for your son to avoid marijuana there — concerns about pot’s long-term effects, belief that time spent not looking at Vermeers is time wasted, the risk of tumbling into a canal — fealty to U.S. law is not one. When a Saudi visits the U.S., she has no ethical obligation to forswear driving simply because it is illegal for a woman to do so in Riyadh.
To reiterate, he has compared a law banning marijuana to a law forbidding women from driving. Regardless of what one thinks the legal status of narcotics should be, there is a world of difference between such a law and one drafted to shield the public from the horrors of women leaving the house more often. By making this comparison, Cohen has, in effect, placed the US law forbidding the use of marijuana on the same moral plane as the systematic discrimination against women practiced by Saudi Arabia.
The country who says that “establishing houses of worship for non-Islamic religions was too sensitive an issue,” no longer shocks me. Somehow, the New York Times still does. Randy Cohen should know better.