Everyday moral decisions do not require an intricate thought process as everyone develops a particular moral code to help them navigate through life. Moral dilemmas, on the other hand, present a challenge and require individuals to reflect, analyze, and clarify their understanding of what is right or wrong. Such a conundrum is presented in the twenty-second episode of Examined Life as a young Dutch couple faces a tough decision. Their choice is limited to either saving their twin boy who has a very high risk of being severely handicapped for the rest of his life or allowing him to die.
The solution lies in understanding three ethical theories: utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and Kantian theory. The primary focus of this essay is going to be a thorough analysis of a possible course of action for the parents based on Immanuel Kant’s ethical principles. It can be argued that it is essential for medical professionals and parents to make decisions in accordance with the child/s interests. They have a moral duty to act compassionately and consider the boy’s suffering and his limited quality of life. Ending his life may not seem moral at first, but having the boy’s welfare in mind might be an example of a responsible and selfless act.
According to Kant, adults as autonomous beings are responsible for their actions. They should be guided by their moral obligations and universal moral laws. In the case of the infant, his parents hold such responsibilities, and thus they have to consider their boy’s misery and pain while making decisions on his behalf. The couple must realize that by prolonging the child’s life, they continue his suffering as well.
One of the main principles of Kantian deontology is morality based on specific duties and obligations. The moral dilemma presented requires the parents and medics to consider medical risks. The infant was born prematurely at 26 weeks, which resulted in his lungs being underdeveloped.
He suffered two brain hemorrhages, so the risk of him being severely handicapped for the rest of his life is extremely high. Newborn respiratory distress syndrome (NRDS) is a serious condition, and the option of putting the infant on artificial respiration would most likely lead to brain and heart damages. Doctors’ statements provide the parents with an opportunity to visualize their boy’s future filled with constant hardships, rather than the ability to lead a happy life.
Some might argue that leading a difficult life is better than having no life at all. Kantians (followers of Kant’s ethical theory) believe in universal laws based on the first formulation of a categorical imperative. Dignity and respect are essential in order to make any decisions regarding morality and righteousness. Considering all the implications, risks, and potential challenges, would the boy be able to live a life filled with dignity? People who presented such an argument fail to imagine the experience that the boy would most likely have. It might be considered a form of torture to selfishly prolong the life of someone who would potentially be severely retarded and only occasionally conscious.
Saving a life seems like an obvious choice, except when it doesn’t. The case of the couple with premature infants presents a moral dilemma as both parents and medics discuss the possibilities and implications of saving one of the twins with NRDS. The decision can be considered extremely difficult, if not impossible. In this essay, however, a possible course of action was presented based on Kant’s ethical theory. The child’s medical risks and his parents’ obligation to act in his best interest lead to a hard, but necessary decision of ending his suffering and not putting him on artificial respiration.
Examined Life. Season 1, episode 22. Directed by Lena Ahlström, INTELECOM Intelligent Telecommunications, 1998.