Solutions to the Moral Dilemma from the Utilitarian Ethical Perspective
Solutions to the Moral Dilemma from the Utilitarian Ethical Perspective (Vaughn 78). The episode Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help? from the documentary The Examined Life illustrates a moral dilemma faced by a family with a marginally-viable newborn and doctors trying to decide whether the best course of action is to continue or withhold treatment. In this scenario, there are twin boys born prematurely at 26 weeks, and one of them is barely surviving because his lungs appear undeveloped, and he has breathing complications and two hemorrhages in different parts of the brain (Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help?). Doctors strongly believe that although he may survive, chances are 85 percent high that he will be severely handicapped. Based on the research and facts, some fundamental ethical theories are applicable to the situation to determine parents and practitioners decision-making. In this context, the most effective moral course of action is achievable by employing the utilitarian ethical theory since it weighs the greatest benefits over harm to all those affected, including the family, child and society.
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The utilitarian theory suggests that an action is morally right when it is more beneficial than unfavorable to the majority. Utilitarian ethics, which is a branch of the consequential theory, suggests that decisions moral worth depends on its consequences (Vaughn 80). According to this theory, an action is good if it produces the greatest degree of happiness for the largest number of individuals, meaning that people should judge the moral value of the solution based on its utility (Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help?). Furthermore, ethics is about relationships, struggling to develop a well-informed conscious decision, having the courage to explore difficult questions and accepting the cost of doing what one thinks is right (Vaughn 80). With this concept in mind, the parents in the documentary film should consider whether they are capable of looking after a severely physically-challenged child and continue with the treatment, or whether it is better to withdraw medical assistance and only provide comforting care to end infants prolonged suffering. From the utilitarian perspective, the decision on whether to withhold or continue treatment efforts should focus on the greatest well-being or outcome for the family, infant and society.
It is crucial to consider how a course of action will affect the family. The utilitarian ethical theory demands individuals to look beyond self-interests and consider the ones of all those affected by a decision (Vaughn 84). In this case, the parents are the ones that have to live and deal with the baby. Therefore, they have to consider that saving the child means that they and other siblings will have to make enormous sacrifices to meet the needs of the handicapped baby. From the documentary, it is evident that the parents are suffering, and the mother maintains that making a life-changing decision on whether to continue or end treatment is harder than just thinking that those are her children, and she can do with them what she wants (Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help?). Unfortunately, months of aggressive intervention trying to save the baby can leave the parents with a child who is alive but too damaged with profound morbidities, and the baby can live a vegetative life, which is heartbreaking for any parent. Other siblings will also undergo tremendous distress watching their brother suffering, and this can affect them negatively. The parents must be sure that they are willing to devote their time and energy to taking care of the handicapped baby since it will be financially and emotionally difficult for them putting familys happiness at stake.
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Other than evaluating consequences for the family, it is also advisable to consider the effect of any decision on the infant. Based on the utilitarian view, after getting all information from medical practitioners, the parents should pursue the greatest good for the boy in relation to other people. They should consider whether their child will ever be able to lead a normal and quality life, or they will only subject him to a substantial degree of risk depending on the decision they will make (Vaughn 86). They should take into account that babys lungs are not properly formed, and a surgery to remove the hemorrhages in the brain will be very risky. Moreover, doctors are confident that there is an 85-percent chance that he will have to endure severe handicaps, pain and lifelong health issues meaning that the infant will never recover completely. The research shows that preterm babies have higher risks of suffering from long-term complications, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, impaired cognitive skills, vision and hearing problems, behavioral and psychological disorders, and other chronic health issues (Vaughn 87-88). With that in mind, the parents and physicians may agree that it will be unfair to torture the baby with aggressive treatment in childhood and that he will never lead a fulfilled life.
In addition to considering the effects of any action on the family and the child, it is also crucial to weigh the impact on the community. The implication is that when deciding whether to treat or discontinue treatment, those involved must consider the overall social benefits or social harm that will arise out of keeping the baby alive or terminating his life (Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help?). For instance, there will be increased costs imposed on society in the form of the allocation of resources from other groups, who also need long-term care to ensure that the baby and others with a similar condition lead a comfortable life. Such handicapped children require long-term care, such as expensive life-sustaining therapies, which can be quite costly (Vaughn 96). Moreover, such severely physically-challenged individuals will not be able to do anything independently, and the family alone will be unable to take care of him and will require the help of society (Moral Dilemmas Can Ethics Help?). Therefore, the choice made should be favorable to the well-being of the baby in relation to larger society, to which the child belongs.
Overall, the utilitarian ethical theory considers harm and benefits that arise out of any course of action to come up with the rightest moral solution. The theory puts emphasis on the best interests of the majority by focusing on the consequences of any decision in solving ethical dilemmas. The Examined Life sheds light on the moral choice that parents and caregivers face trying to determine the fate of marginally impaired infants who have no say in what they want. Deciding on the right course of action is very hard for both the parents and doctors bearing in mind that an ethical decision on life and death is irreversible and has long-lasting consequences. Hence, they must make a choice, with which they can all live. If the parents decide to continue with treatment, they will be sure that they are ready to care for their baby, and if they opt to withhold medical help, they should be willing to let their baby rest peacefully. Whatever the case, the utilitarian ethical theory tries to guide them on the best course of action, which is favorable for the majority, bearing in mind that the result should justify the means.