Not All Rescues End Well — the Death of Anne Dufourmantelle, Risk-Taker

In mid-July we posted about a group of 80 strangers who formed a human chain to rescue 10 people carried out in a rip current into the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City Beach in the Florida panhandle. All ten were saved. No one was seriously hurt.

Not all rescues end well, however, and while it is more pleasant to focus on those that do, I think it is also important to look at those whose outcome can be tragic. 

Anne Dufourmantelle, 53, died recently attempting to rescue two children in danger, swimming off the coast of Pampelonne beach, near St.-Tropez, France. Ms. Dufourmantelle was a highly regarded philosopher and psychoanalyst, known for her work that praised living a life that embraced risk.  

Ms. Dufourmantelle leapt into the water to attempt to save the children but was overwhelmed by the heavy surf.  She was pulled unresponsive from the water and efforts at resuscitation failed.  The children were later rescued from the water safely by liefguards.

The New York Times reports, Ms. Dufourmantelle went to Brown University and was awarded a doctoral degree in philosophy from Paris-Sorbonne University. She wrote several books, including “Éloge du Risque” (“In Praise of Risk”), published in 2011, that embrace risk as a necessary part of the human experience.

“The idea of absolute security — like ‘zero risk’ — is a fantasy. … Being alive is a risk,” Dufourmantelle told the French newspaper La Liberation in a 2015 interview. “When there really is a danger that must be faced in order to survive … there is a strong incentive for action, dedication, and surpassing oneself,” she said.

Is her death the confirmation of her philosophy or its repudiation? The essence of risk taking is that one can lose as surely as one can win. In the world outside of theory, should she have waited for the lifeguards at the risk of the children drowning? Or was she right to risk her life not having any assurance that the life guards would arrive in time? In truth, there is no straightforward answer. That is the nature of risk and life itself. We cannot predict the outcome and the dice cannot be unrolled. 

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5 Responses to Not All Rescues End Well — the Death of Anne Dufourmantelle, Risk-Taker

  1. Irwin Bryan says:

    A great blog with an excellent ending!

  2. She walked the talk. Or rather, swam it. Seriously, she tried.

  3. Robin Denny says:

    Is one’s own life more valuable than those of two children?
    As an eighty-year-old, for me it would be an easy choice. More so for younger people.

  4. maria ross says:

    taking risks is living and dying..

  5. Tony Nelson says:

    Alan Watts wrote “The Wisdom of Insecurity”.
    There are no guarantees : insurance is a delusion !
    Embrace risk, it’s a way to a more interesting life.