The Wreck of the William BrownA True Tale of Overcrowded Lifeboats and Murder at Sea
Douglas & McIntyre, Ltd. Canada (2003) ISBN: 1550549367
McGraw-Hill Marine, USA (2004) ISBN: 0-07-143468-2
Constable Books, UK (2004)

In 1841 the American sailing ship William Brown struck an iceberg. About half of the passengers and all of the crew were saved in two small, open boats. The next night, half of the passengers in the larger long-boat were thrown overboard because the boat was over full. This was the first case of "lifeboat ethics," of hard choices in the face of scarcity. Since then the question has been "who should die so that others, equally needy, might live?" Both the case of the William Brown and the ethics it spawned have been used in recent years to describe the problem of health care rationing generally, and organ transplantation specifically.

Koch reexamines and reinterprets the paradigm case of lifeboat ethics, the story of the William Brown, not as an unavoidable tragedy, but as an avoidable series of errors. Its relation to more general issues of distributive justice are then considered. The lessons learned from both the historical review and its application to distributive principles are then applied to the problem of graft organ distribution in the United States. Through the use of maps, the problem of organ distribution is considered at a range of scales, from the international to the urban. The contextual issues become more evident as one moves from international to hemispheric, from national to regional, and then local systems. Finally, Koch reviews the lessons in light of other problems of distribution in the face of scarcity. The central lesson-that scarcity is exacerbated where it is not in fact created by our distributive programs-is explored thoroughly. The result is "no good choices" for anyone and the continuation of the scarcity that for most seems inevitable, but, from the evidence provided, is itself an outcome of inequalities of distribution at different scales of society. Of particular interest to students, scholars, and policy makers involved with issues of planning and health care economics, medical geography, and concepts of justice.

A compelling story of shipwreck, murder, international political shenanigans and a dramatic trial that changed maritime law.

nsely profitable. In 1841-some 71 years before the luxury liner Titanic collided with an iceberg in the same waters off Newfoundland-a sailing ship, the William Brown, carrying emigrants from Britain to America, struck an iceberg and sank. In both cases, half the passengers drowned because the ship owners had not provided sufficient lifeboats for all. But the survivors of the William Brown faced further horrors; fourteen of them were drowned when they were thrown overboard to help lighten one of the lifeboats.

When the tragedy of the William Brown threatened to expose the common practice of sailing without an adequate number of lifeboats, a collection of politicians, lawyers, jurists and reporters on both sides of the Atlantic conspired to indict a simple seaman who was in truth the only true hero of the disaster. The trial revealed a pivotal moment that still resonates in maritime law and that gave rise to the concept of "lifeboat ethics": how to decide who gets saved when resources are limited and scarcity requires a choice.

Advance praise for The Wreck of the William Brown

"Tom Koch's gripping re-creation of a notorious nineteenth-century case of shipwreck and murder on the high seas makes absorbing reading. His fascinating exploration of the political motives which led to the trial of the one man who performed a heroic act shows that the same considerations are often affecting ethical decisions made today in unrelated fields." Michael Phillips, Maritime Historian.

"More than a horrifying tale of shipwrecked survivors being thrown from their lifeboat to drown, Koch's retelling of the wreck of the William Brown is also a penetrating examination of causes. After reading it, you'll never again hear someone say 'There's not enough room,' without asking, 'Why the hell not?'" Denis Wood, Author, of The Power of Maps

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