Two Australian DJs have been harshly criticised for the hoax they played on the staff of a London hospital where the pregnant Kate Middleton was treated for severe morning sickness. They called, pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles, asked to be put through to Middleton's room, and recorded everything. The nurse did what they asked and later, when the hoax made the news, killed herself. Why exactly no one knows, but it is reasonable to assume that her suicide had something to do with the hoax and her failure to see through it. At the time, the DJs thought their hoax was very funny; the hospital, after the nurse's death, condemned their behaviour as "cruel" and "truly appalling". But was it really? After all, the DJs had no idea that their hoax would result in the death of a person. Could they have foreseen it? No. Nobody could have foreseen it. One would not think that a one-time failure to realise that someone is not who they pretend to be is a sufficient reason to kill themselves for anyone. And perhaps it wasn't. Perhaps there were other, additional circumstances about which we don't know anything yet. But be that as it may, there can hardly be any doubt that if the nurse had not killed herself, the vast majority of people would find the whole thing simply hilarious. What a great prank, we would say. We may even wish we had done it ourselves. What a cheek!
Are we, in all these cases, not to blame then? Do we not carry any responsibility for what happens as a result of our actions if we couldn't foresee them? Actually, I think we do. There is such a thing as causal responsibility. We are responsible simply because we caused something to happen, even though we may not have intended it and even though it may have been impossible for us to prevent it. It's still us who did it. Moral luck, bad luck in these cases. And we cannot undo it. We caused a person's death. And that is the knowledge which those two unfortunate DJs have to live with for the rest of their lives. We shouldn't blame them. We should feel sorry for them.