The Case of the Speluncean Explorers

The most difficult part about this case is the facts that were not presented in the story. How was Mr. Whetmore murdered? On what day did the crime take place? Did any of the defendants become ill from eating human flesh? And most importantly, to me, did the defendant’s attorneys advise them to plead guilty by way of temporary mental insanity? The latter question is by far the most puzzling aspect of this case; if it was true that the defendants were in a “state of nature” or were in such a dreadful state that the thought of not being able to eat, the basic necessity of life, was unattainable, then it would be true that they were in a state of temporary insanity.

During the Second World War, between November 19, 1944 and December 20, 1945; the University of Minnesota conducted what was known as The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. The study’s main goal; “was to determine the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged dietary restriction.” (Kaplan) The researchers began with phase one; a 12 week observation of the volunteers normal mental state, followed by phase two; a 24 week starvation period where volunteers were starved in order to lose 25% of their body weight, the final phase was a rehabilitation phase.

The study had interesting findings but here are the ones that would be pertinent to this case;

  • “Prolonged semi-starvation produced significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis(a focus on somatic concerns) as measured by the MMPI (a test of personality)
  • Most participants experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression and grew increasingly irritable
  • Some individuals engaged in self-mutilation(these days we call this self-harm, often seen in people struggling with regulating their emotions) – apparently one person cut off three fingers with an axe although it was unsure if this was deliberate or accidental” (Kaplan)

These findings show that starvation does in fact cause mental instability. We would have to factor in for the fact that the defendants were in the cave for at least 23 days (3.28 weeks) before they resorted to cannibalism and the volunteers were starved for 168 days (24 weeks) and that the defendants had no rations or food for a shorter period of time, which would have increased the effects of starvation at a more rapid rate than the volunteers, while the volunteers had some form of nutrients. You must also control for the fact that the volunteers were aware that they would be leaving the experiment in 24 weeks while the defendants were unsure if they would leave the cave at all. It would appear that the defendants were in a much more severe state than the volunteers were. But, their attorney should have, if they did not, take this position. Because of the lack of facts we cannot build a case for one side of the two parties that are arguing in front of us. Unsure of any other facts besides the ones presented to us this case becomes simpler for me to determine the outcome.

We must first look at the bargain struck between the explorers; the bargain was struck and all parties were in agreement but Mr. Whetmore withdrew himself from the agreement and advised to postpone the arrangement. Setting this fact aside, the parties forced Mr. Whetmore to fulfill his end of the bargain, denying his plea for an extension. The dice were than thrown on Mr. Whetmore’s behalf and he had no objections to the legitimacy of the throw. The throw went against Mr. Whetmore’s favor and he was later, unsure of an exact date, murdered after at least 23 days in the cave. The legitimacy of the throw was not contested and nor should it have been, but the throw should have taken place at the time it had been. Mr. Whetmore had made a decision to wait until their situation had become so dire that it would only come to an inevitable situation of necessity for life. The moment Mr. Whetmore made the decision to exclude himself from the arrangement, he had made a conscious choice to not be murdered or murder anyone. At least not at the time the arrangement was executed. His freewill was stripped away and was forced to take part in theis very unusual and unfortunate act where one must accept their fate of killing or being killed.

In many instances, in regards to contracts, two parties enter an agreement and at a later date one party is not able to satisfy his/her obligations under the contract and request for more time to be able to do so. In other situations parties have second thoughts all together and withdraw from the agreement. The recourse of withdrawing is never death.

As to Justice Foster’s comment that ten workmen died in an attempt to save these five men. That is just it. These ten brave workmen gave their lives to save five men, not four. The men died in an attempt to rescue these men and knew the ramifications of their actions. They still decided to be heroic and died in the attempt to relieve these men of the prison.

Of the five men, one protested for a postponement of the agreement. This extension should have been granted. If the four members of the party were able to physically murder another man, assuming that there was a struggle, they were in a physically healthy state at the time of the crime. The defendants should have heeded Mr. Whetmore’s plea and waited for aid to arrive.

Mr. Whetmore was in search of another way to survive. One that did not involve sentencing one to death so that others may live. He was not given the opportunity to properly analyze an alternative solution to their position. He was protected at the time of his murder under the law of the Commonwealth and justice should be served. I am hopeful that these men will be granted executive clemency and be pardoned for their acts due to their extreme situation. Nevertheless, our job is to uphold the law and judge if the law has been violated. In this case the law was violated, these men willfully took the life of Mr. Whetmore and the guilty verdict should be upheld. I am in accord with Justice Keen on this matter.

Kaplan, Bonnie, PH.D., and Julia Rucklidge, PH.D. “Starvation: What Does It Do

to the Brain? – Mad In America.” Mad In America. Mad In America, 28 May 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

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2 Responses to The Case of the Speluncean Explorers

  1. vincetrrs says:

    I also encountered many of the questions you began with. I also agree that they were in a state of temporary insanity. Given the situation they were in, I think it’s rather easy to believe they were in such a state. It was very interesting when you brought up the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I mean we joke about people being hangry and such, but it was really interesting to hear that there has been actual research done to link a person’s mental state and hunger. I would have never seriously thought mental instability would be linked to starvation.

  2. legomez5 says:

    Great post AJ. Nice set of facts and awesome job including that study. I agree with you when you mention how “the defendants were in a much more severe state” as compared to the volunteers. It is safe to say that the situation they were in at the time was dire. However I must emphasize, Mr. Whetmore was the one who proposed the idea of consuming one of their own numbers, and also it was him who provided the method of “casting lots.” The defendants did not eagerly accept this, as a matter of fact they were “reluctant to adopt so desperate a procedure.” Obviously these men all eventually entered the agreement proposed by Mr. Whetmore. Now we have all these men in an agreement. With the agreement already made, Mr. Whetmore seeks to as you say “postpone the arrangement.” Well see these men were in an agreement already, they all consented, although in harsh conditions, to method proposed by Mr. Whetmore. These men decided they would not entertain Mr. Whetmore’s postponement idea. Thus continued to engage in their already establish agreement.

    Without a doubt these men did commit murder. They took the life of another individual in order to maintain survival. These men were in a dire situation. Help would not arrive for another 10 days, survival was not guaranteed. Although these men did commit the act of murder, I don’t agree to sentencing them and hoping that another branch of government grant them freedom. Essentially the law does not apply to these men at that particular time of the occurrence. I do not see justice in sentencing these men. It will not serve the community any better and definitely not help these individuals who by the way are not criminals.

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