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Ethics in Movies: A Look at “Never Let Me Go”

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2220 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Never Let Me Go

The ethical dilemma in the movie called Never Let Me Go (Romanek, 2010) is that children are brought up without the knowledge that they will end up being organ donors. Aggravating the problem is not just that they will donate organs but that this will be done multiple times until the youth eventually die without having reached a ripe old age. Furthermore, this is to be done without the youth having consented to the exercise. It is as though they have been denied the right to decide what to do with their bodies or the right to defend themselves from what others more superior than them can do to their bodies. Essentially, the children raised up at Hailsham House and other cottages in the region are brought up as underlings in the human race, bereft of such rights as have been mentioned above.

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The ethical issue is initially faced by Miss Lucy, who works at Hailsham House as the caretaker for the fourth-year students. However, the same issue is faced by the narrator of the story (Cathy), who was initially a student at Hailsham House and eventually volunteered to become a caretaker (Romanek, 2010), and by so doing managed to escape the fate of many of her peers, that is, facing the surgeon’s knife. In an ideal world, it could have been an ethical issue faced by all the leaders in the school or even the entire society of which the narrator was part, but that does not appear to be the case. Miss Lucy, when she cannot handle the weight on her conscience, divulges the truth of the matter to her students and is laid off on the grounds of an action intended to undermine or overthrow the institution (Romanek, 2010).

Miss Lucy was faced with the decision to let the children know the truth or to hide the truth from them regarding the courses of their lives. She could have remained silent on the issue, but decided to tell the children under her charge that they would not grow up as normal children nor would they hold jobs as other grown-ups do. This cost her job at Hailsham House. The narrator of the story is also one who is faced with a similar dilemma albeit at a later time in her life, seeing that she eventually becomes a care giver and is charged with the task of seeing off her charges to the surgeon’s table (Romanek, 2010).

The issue is both about the shadow of a leader and the challenges of a follower (Johnson, 2017). For example, the leaders at Hailsham House felt that loyalty had been broken by Miss Lucy telling the children what should have remained a secret all their lives. This was a challenge on the part of Miss Lucy who was a leader to the children but member among the leaders of the tight knit community. On the other hand, the narrator of the story is also faced with the same issue and is obligated to be obedient to the society of which she is part, knowing full well that she would not fit into any other society even if she tried. The leaders in the movie show themselves to be bad leaders because they mismanage information in what Miss Lucy terms as “not being told the truth” (Romanek, 2010). In fact, by keeping the children misinformed and uninformed, the leaders were abusing their power and hence were casting dark shadows.

Of the six general ethical perspectives, the one that appears to have been used by the characters in the movie is utilitarianism; that is, to do the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people (Johnson, 2017). Miss Lucy tends to use this perspective in her decision to let the children know about their future selves since the number of children is more than that of their leaders. Miss Lucy presupposes that, in the long run, the children who would be saved by her divulging the information will outnumber even those who have already undergone surgery as well as those who have died in the process. Miss Lucy takes the utilitarian approach with regard to the number of children she hopes to save in the end. The narrator also takes the same perspective as she claims that she is good at her job. She seems to be looking at the situation in terms of how many people will be helped by the organs being donated by her charges. It is highly unlikely that a person who has received an organ from a donor at one time will later on require another organ implant from the same person. For example, a person who has received a kidney is not likely to require a liver as well unless some extenuating circumstances such as a spreading cancer do prevail. It is more likely that an organ donor will donate organs to different people; hence, the argument that the narrator takes is a utilitarian perspective in terms of the number of people likely to be saved through organ donation.

I do not agree with the idea of using a utilitarian approach to the dilemmas faced by the characters in Never Let Me Go. The overarching problem is not solved by taking this stance, but it is rather like sugar-coating the whole situation. In the end, it is still a bitter pill to swallow. What I would consider the best way of dealing with the dilemma faced by these characters is justice as fairness. This would mean that all children are given the same rights and opportunities even though the children might be ignorant of the fact that they have such rights and opportunities (Johnson, 2017). In the end, the society, if reformed, might suffer a significant shortage of donor organs, but it would be the right thing to do.

My decision on the ethical issue in the movie is to let the government authorities know about the evil being done in the society and have the government deal with the issue of lack of consent on the part of the children once and for all. Using Nash’s twelve questions, this is how someone else can arrive at a similar decision:

  1. Is the problem defined accurately? What are the facts (Johnson, 2017)? This will help determine whether the damage caused will be as great as one feared it would be. In this case, the problem is that children are brought up to become organ donors without their knowledge of the truth, and their right to give consent is stolen from them.
  2. How the problem would be defined with me standing on the other side of the fence (Johnson, 2017): Some people living outside the Hailsham House would feel as if they were being denied the chance of continuing with life, and that if it involves making use of ignorant organ donors to get their life back then there is nothing wrong with that. The organ donors are considered to be ignorant in this case because they have been brainwashed since childhood into thinking that it is their duty in life to donate organs, while that is not the case in reality.
  3. The manner in which the situation occurred at first (Johnson, 2017): Having fired Miss Lucy because of insubordination was not a solution to the underlying problem. The problem was that the children at Hailsham House were being deceived from the moment they entered the premises to the time they left for other cottages.
  4. Who and what I would give my loyalties as a person and as a member of the Hailsham House (Johnson, 2017): my loyalties would be to my guiding principles, which would suggest that being loyal to the cause of the institution was out of question. It would also suggest that I needed to be loyal to the children in the institution, and not to the adults.
  5. What my intention is in making the decision (Johnson, 2017): to see that justice is done to the children and to the people perpetrating the crimes against them.
  6. How my intentions compare with the likely results (Johnson, 2017): it is likely that the adults in the institution will be affected negatively, but the children will be affected positively. It will not be a win-win situation in the end.
  7. Whom my decision or action could injure (Johnson, 2017): my decision could be injurious to the adults in the institution.
  8. Whether or not I can engage the affected parties in a discussion: Yes, I can. However, while the children would be agreeable to such a discussion, the adults are likely not to be.
  9. Is there confidence that the decision will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now (Johnson, 2017)? I am confident that many decades after my decision has been made, if other people were to scrutinize it, they would agree that it was indeed they right decision and that they, too, would come up with a similar decision. This is a decision that is based on the society we currently live in. if it were a decision based on the society in the movie, the likelihood would be that there would be repercussions from the leaders in the society who would not support such a decision.
  10. I could disclose, without any qualms, my decision to any member of the society regardless of their social standing.
  11.  The symbolic potential of my action, if understood, is likely to meet public acclaim and not disapproval. It is also highly unlikely that the symbolic potential of my action will be misunderstood.
  12.  There are conditions under which I would allow exceptions to my stand: that the leaders at Hailsham House come clear to their students about their prospects in the future; that the children are allowed to make a choice whether or not to donate their organs; and that the children are brought up as would be any other child in the general society.

Miss Lucy depicts the classic example of a servant leader. Right from the moment she comes to Hailsham House, she shows that the needs of the children come first before her own. She quickly points out to the children that they have been deceived all along with stories meant to scare them from walking out of the premises. Furthermore, when she realizes the extent of the deceit, she does not balk from the need to let the children know the full extent of the truth. She portrays as the type of leader who helps her followers recover from trauma when she talks to Tommy about bullies (Johnson, 2017). When she divulges the truth to her students, she also shows as a person who serves a worthy cause.

Miss Lucy showed what a courageous leader ought to be like by overcoming her fear of the reprisals and doing the right thing even though it eventually cost her job. At the time she was divulging the information to the students, a person watching the movie would see the expression in Miss Lucy’s face as one who was filled with trepidation regarding what she had just done (Romanek, 2010). In essence, she was acknowledging the danger of the situation she was facing. However, when looking at her decision not to confront the leaders of the institution but rather to talk about them behind closed doors, then one would say that Miss Lucy was not so courageous after all. Nevertheless, she did have the courage to assume responsibility for her actions (Johnson, 2017). She agreed to be fired from her post as the care taker of the fourth year students and while she was gone, her role had to be shared between two other teachers (Romanek, 2010). This is also evidence that Miss Lucy was a courageous individual in that she had the courage to leave her employ even though for all intents and purposes she was not the one in the wrong (Johnson, 2017).

Miss Lucy also proved to be a very temperate person. While she was direct in speech and very honest to the children regarding their fate, she was careful not to let her anger come forth as an outburst of rage. She was in total control of her emotions and did not break down either.

        Miss Lucy was also a just individual who sought the fair and equal treatment of all children under her care  (Johnson, 2017). Having such a sense of justice is what caused her to divulge the information to her class that they would be used to donate organs once they grew older.

In this paper, the movie called “Never Let Me Go” has been discussed with particular emphasis on the ethical dilemma which has been pointed out as children being bred as organ donors without them knowing the entire truth. The ethical issue has been cited as being about the challenges of a follower and the shadows of a leader. It has been noted that the Utilitarian approach was used by key individuals in the movie, and that I would not have used a similar approach but would have rather taken justice and fairness as the best approach in solving the ethical issue. Furthermore, Nash’s twelve questions have been used to show how someone else would come to a similar conclusion. Miss Lucy, one of the key characters in the movie has been depicted as a courageous servant leader who was both just and fair.


  • Johnson, C. E. (2017). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Romanek, M. (Director). (2010). Never Let Me Go [Motion Picture].


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