Deontology, Act Utilitarianism And The Pursuit Of Autonomy Mc Master University, Philosophy Case Study

1456 words - 6 pages

Deontology, Act Utilitarianism and Pursuit of Autonomy
Mina Pichtikova
McMaster University
Deontology, Act Utilitarianism and Pursuit of Autonomy
Olive is a healthy 12-year-old girl, caught in the midst of a complicated ethical dilemma.
Her 10-year-old sister Nancy is at the end-stage of renal failure and requires a kidney transplant.
Upon conducting medical tests, it is determined that Olive is a donor match for her sister.
Initially, Olive is unwilling to donate her kidney. However, Olive’s parents Sylvia and Jack use
emotional pressure to eventually coerce her into agreeing to be a donor. Was the behaviour of the
parent’s ethical? Situations involving minors as live kidney donors for siblings are ethically
complex, as the donor receives no therapeutic value from the procedure and the term minor
encompasses a wide range of maturity levels (Kim, 2003). Deontology and Act Utilitarianism
ethical theories can be used to tackle this complicated dilemma, however, they come to different
conclusions. Deontology argues that the parents’ actions of coercing Olive into donating her
kidney were unethical, whereas Act Utilitarianism argues that they were ethical. However, Act
Utilitarianism overlooks one incredibly important ethical consideration: Olive’s autonomy.
Deontology is a non-consequentialist theory of obligation proposed by Immanuel Kant.
He proposes that what determines whether an action is moral or immoral is not the consequence
it leads to, but rather whether the general principle, or maxim, the action itself conforms to is
“right” or “wrong” under his formulations. The maxim is composed of the action one wishes to
undertake, followed by the reason to do so (Boetzkes & Waluchow, 2000). In this case, the
maxim would be “I may coerce someone to help someone else”. Kant provides three
formulations necessary to determine whether or not it is moral for Sylvia and Jack to act on their
personal maxim. In order to be moral, an action must pass all three formulations. The first
formulation, logical consistency, requires that one universalizes their personal maxim and then
Deontology, Act Utilitarianism and Pursuit of Autonomy
assess it (Boetzkes & Waluchow, 2000). Upon acting on a personal maxim, Sylvia and Jack
theoretically agree that it should be a universal law, and thus generalizable to all other
individuals across similar situations. According to Kant, immoral maxims can never pass the first
formulation, because if they were to become universal laws they would lead to a contradiction
(Boetzkes & Waluchow, 2000). The maxim, in this case, leads to a contradiction because, in a
world where everyone coerced one another, free will would cease to exist. The second of Kant’s
formulations states that you must never treat people as a mere means, but always at the same
time as your ends (Boetzkes & Waluchow, 2000). Sylvia and Jack’s actions also fail the second
formulation, as...

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