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Weight(s) of complicity
  1. Alec Walker,
  2. Alex John London
  1. Philosophy Department, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alex John London, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 152133890, USA; ajlondon{at}


International non-governmental organisations (INGO) face a dilemma when deciding whether to intervene in crisis situations where their efforts can be exploited or co-opted by others: intervene and risk becoming complicit with wrongdoing or sit on the sidelines and consign vulnerable people to the ravages of neglect or oppression. In “‘He who helps the guilty, shares the crime’? INGOs, moral narcissism and complicity in wrongdoing,” Buth et al argue that concerns about complicity often stifle ethical debate and encourage moral narcissism. We argue that neglecting concerns about complicity can foster a different form of moral narcissism and that where worries of complicity are present, aid efforts face three types of risk: risks to others created by contributing to wrongful acts or bad outcomes; risks to the moral integrity of the INGO and its personnel; and risks to social trust in the INGO. In the end, we challenge the assumption that there is a unique, ethically best way to reconcile these values. We suggest that the causes of justice and humanity might be better served by a diverse community of INGOs who each gives different weight to these concerns, than if each INGO adopts the same framework for reconciling these competing demands.

  • ethics
  • applied and professional ethics
  • interests of health personnel/institutions
  • international affairs
  • NGOs

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  • AW and AJL contributed equally.

  • Contributors Each author contributed equally to this paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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