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Social Ethics

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Social Ethics

Dr. Mayer

Alicia Eberhard

A 33 year old pregnant female has been rushed to the emergency room. Upon arrival to the emergency room, she goes into labor. The medical team places an oxygen mask on her face and a fetal monitor on her abdomen. The medical team asks her a myriad of health question and find that there are no negative or significant health problems. They call up to the labor and delivery floor to arrange for her to be moved up there to deliver the baby.

While in labor, her eyes roll back into her head, she stops breathing and her heart stops beating. To add pressure, the physician only has so much time to choose to either save the mother or the baby. No one shows up on her behalf to advocate for her, so the decision is now left up to the physician. The physician is unable to save them both. Medical ethics and medical teaching has taught the physician to save the mother, because she is his primary patient.

Once the physician has stabilized the mother, he or she will then attempt to save the unborn baby, if there is time. Within the following pages, I will attempt to argue why it is morally right to either save the baby or the mother, while supporting my position using Kantianism and Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is defined as: "Ethical principle according to which an action is right if it tends to maximize happiness, not only that of the agent but also of everyone affected." "Thus, utilitarians focus on the consequences of an act rather than on its intrinsic nature or the motives of the agent (see consequentialism). Classical utilitarianism is hedonist, but values other than, or in addition to, pleasure (ideal utilitarianism) can be employed, or--more neutrally, and in a version popular in economics--anything can be regarded as valuable that appears as an object of rational or informed desire (preference utilitarianism). The test of utility maximization can also be applied directly to single acts (act utilitarianism), or to acts only indirectly through some other suitable object of moral assessment, such as rules of conduct (rule utilitarianism)."

John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism theory states: "an action is right if and only if it is that action which, among all the available alternatives maximizes good consequences, otherwise it is wrong." He also says "no system of ethics requires that our only motive in everything we do shall be a feeling of duty; on the contrary, ninety-nine hundredths of all our actions are done from other motives, and rightly so... the motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action... the great majority of good actions are intended not for the benefit of the world, but for that of individuals, of which the good of the world is made up."

A utilitarian makes a perception in accordance with how much general contentment and happiness a certain act brings about. If choosing the mother's life over her unborn child's life compels more general anguish than happiness, a utilitarian would have to throw away this choice. On the contrary, if this choice returns more happiness, then the choice must be ethically right.

If the physician follows this ethical theory, then he is duty bound to save the mother. Legally, the physician is bound by a duty to save the mother anyway. Physicians take an oath called the "Hippocratic Oath". It states: "I do solemnly vow, to that which I value and hold most dear: That I will honor the Profession of Medicine, be just and generous to its members, and help sustain them in their service to humanity; That just as I have learned from those who preceded me, so will I instruct those who follow me in the science and the art of medicine; That I will recognize the limits of my knowledge and pursue lifelong learning to better care for the sick and to prevent illness; That I will seek the counsel of others when they are more expert so as to fulfill my obligation to those who are entrusted to my care; That I will not withdraw from my patients in their time of need; That I will lead my life and practice my art with integrity and honor, using my power wisely; That whatsoever I shall see or hear of the lives of my patients that is not fitting to be spoken, I will keep in confidence; That into whatever house I shall enter, it shall be for the good of the sick; That I will maintain this sacred trust, holding myself far aloof from wrong, from corrupting, from the tempting of others to vice; That above all else I will serve the highest interests of my patients through the practice of my science and my art; That I will be an advocate for patients in need and strive for justice in the care of the sick. I now turn to my calling, promising to preserve its finest traditions, with the reward of a long experience in the joy of healing. I make this vow freely and upon my honor." However, most physicians become physicians, because they are driven by the will to do the most good for the most people. Saving the mother will almost undoubtedly bring the most happiness. Saving the mother often requires delivering the baby, but never letting the baby die.

The baby may not survive the premature delivery but the infant's death must not be the intent of the medical intervention. For every good doctor follows the Hippocratic Oath to first, do no harm. In the case where the physician believes without question that the baby will not live on its own, and that if they have to perform surgery to save the mother's life that will result in the baby dying, it is a tragic loss for which the physician is not morally responsible.

Choosing to save the mother would maximize the good consequences in the following ways. Barring any other unforeseen circumstances, the mother would be able to go on to have additional children. These future children would want a family complete with a mother in it. If the mother were to die, this would leave a lot of pressure on the father to raise the child or children alone. The mother's death may also cause mental anguish on the surviving child. This may cause the child to grow up thinking that



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