Never Mind the Expenses

Posted: Oct 06, 2008 12:01 AM
Never Mind the Expenses

I am participating in a charity bike tour in Italy later this year. Each rider must get sponsors to raise $2,500 for the charity. Since the ride will take place abroad, there are additional costs of airfare, hotel and registration fees. Is it ethical to raise more than the required $2,500 and apply the surplus money to those costs? -- David Y. Harari, Brooklyn, N.Y.

You may apply these donations to your expenses if the charity allows it and your sponsors realize that their contributions will be used in this way. But is that so? What you call "surplus money" the charity and those donors might regard simply as "money" -- intended to serve a benevolent purpose, not defray your costs.

While this is something you may do, charity and sponsors permitting, it is not something you should do. One criticism some charities face is that they apply too great a portion of contributions to operating expenses -- hence the excellent wine at many a charity gala; hence the charity gala -- rather than to good works. That is, the bike tour is meant to underwrite the charity, not the other way around.

I am an emergency-medicine physician and often care for patients who have sustained an injury from a motor-vehicle accident or other trauma. Periodically, a patient asks if I can recommend a lawyer so that the patient might sue the person who he or she feels caused the injury. Can I refer the patient to my good friend, who I believe is an excellent attorney? -- B.K., New York

This is not a direct conflict of interest -- you stand to gain nothing personally by this recommendation -- but you should not use your position to help your pal. To do so could muddy the doctor-patient relationship and undermine your ability to act as a witness for the patient should a legal proceeding occur. Ben Wedro, a physician involved in emergency medicine for 25 years, makes another worrisome point: "By offering a referral to an attorney, the physician suggests that liability exists." When presented with such a request, you'd do better to refer patients to the local bar association or such. And you should not wear a T-shirt emblazoned with "$weet $ue" above a photo of your friend the lawyer.

When my sister found a new apartment, she was pleased to discover a washer-dryer already in place. The management company said the machine did not "belong" to the unit but was left by a previous tenant, whose contact information they would not disclose. She subsequently paid out of her own pocket to have it repaired. Now she is about to move. May she take the washer-dryer with a clear conscience? -- Rachel M. Green, Arvada, Colo.

I don't know what else your sister has on her conscience, but if she adopts this washer-dryer, she needn't add that to her roster of treachery. She's as entitled as anyone to the orphaned machinery. Her landlord explicitly renounced it, and the former tenant deliberately forsook it. Her having spent money on repairs would not grant her ownership if someone else had a legitimate claim. (That's one reason I don't pick out a nice Porsche parked at the curb and get it a tune-up: Its actual owner would still be the -- what's the word? Oh, right -- owner.) But the actions of the landlord and the previous tenant qualify the washer-dryer as abandoned property and hence up for grabs.