A reader in Northern California was looking forward to her birthday. Her daughter had invited her and a lifelong friend to celebrate the event in a vacation home the daughter owned in Costa Rica.

Since the reader's daughter rents out the Costa Rica house to others, she blocked out the specific time that her mother and her friend would be visiting. The reader and her friend purchased their airline tickets well in advance. Her daughter made arrangements so the two of them could go on several excursions and take a trip to the capital city of San Jose.

The planning continued and the anticipation grew.

But then, the reader's friend received disturbing news from her granddaughter. A friend of the granddaughter had apparently gone to Costa Rica, gotten sick, and subsequently died.

The reader still didn't see any reason that that should alter their travel plans. But, she writes that her friend "panicked and canceled her participation."

When the reader's daughter learned that her mother's friend was no longer planning to travel to Costa Rica, the daughter canceled the time she had blocked out for them in her vacation house. The reader says her daughter did this because the lifelong friend's "presence was more or less a birthday gift for me."

Now, the reader is faced with what she sees as a problem. Since her daughter canceled the trip and she has nowhere to stay, there's not much sense in keeping her flight to Costa Rica or the excursion bookings her daughter had made.

She writes that her friend "has been very hostile" since she decided to cancel the trip. The reader's assessment is that her friend's hostility "is the only way she can deal with her guilt."

"Should my friend be responsible for our cancellation fees?" the reader asks.

The reader's friend's behavior might have as much to do with sharing her granddaughter's grief over the loss of a friend as it does with guilt over bailing out on the Costa Rica birthday trip. Still, the friend should be responsible for any cancellation fees she incurred for her portion of the trip.

It doesn't seem right to hold the friend responsible for the reader's cancellation fees any more than it does to hold the reader's daughter responsible since she after all is the one who decided not to keep the Costa Rica house available for the appointed time.

The reader may portray her friend's response to news of her granddaughter's friend's death as "panicked," but if that event caused her to rethink her desire to make the trip then it's her prerogative to do so, regardless of how inconvenient it makes things.

The right thing is for each of them to pay for their own expenses incurred as a result of the decision not to go to Costa Rica, just as they would have paid their own expenses had they gone.

(Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business," is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of http://www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing(at)comcast.net.)

(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.