Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From Portland, OR: should you really get a Medal of Heroism from the police because you killed a guy who attacked you?

That's the question I have to ask after reading this story from my hometown of Portland, OR:

A Civilian Medal of Heroism will be awarded Wednesday to Susan Kuhnhausen, the Portland nurse who strangled an intruder hired to kill her in 2006.

Kuhnhausen wrestled the hammer-wielding intruder to the ground and choked him to death.

Kuhnhausen's husband, Michael, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to commit murder. He hired the man kill his wife.

Susan Kuhnhausen is one of 85 civilians and police officers who will be recognized for heroism, lifesaving skills, or distinguished service in the Portland Police Bureau's annual awards.

The committee says the 53-year-old displayed courage and heroic action.
No question, she displayed courage. But heroic action? She saved herself! This was pure instinct! A guy tried to kill her, so she defended herself and killed him. I'm not trying to take anything away from the "woah!" factor of the event, but I have to really wonder whether this belongs in the same category of somebody who rushes into a burning house to rescue some kids or something.

A hero, to me, is someone who puts their own safety aside in order to help/save someone else. There has to be a measure of self-sacrifice (or at least heroic disregard for one's own safety to advance the public good) at play in order to be called a "hero". Remember that dude in New York who jumped down onto the subway tracks to save a woman who was having a seizure, and just narrowly missed being run over by the subway? Ok, he's a hero. The woman in this story simply defended herself. Would a woman who shot an armed intruder be given the same award? I doubt it, but there's really no difference.

I know this is kind of a classic blog thing to do--make something non-controversial into a controversy, but I think it's a worthwhile question: what's so heroic about defending yourself? Isn't that just a natural reaction?