The Ultimate Decision between Two Lives

by Evalina21 on February 9, 2015 - 2:42pm

Moral dilemmas present controversial situations that most people would rather ignore. Doctors and surgeons often have to make such decision that involves their patients' lives . There is a lot of pressure on these professions to do the right thing. The words “right thing” might vary from person to person because of different social context, time period and tradition. Nevertheless, their main duty is to sustain the patient’s life with respect. What happens when the doctor can only pick one of the two patients’ lives? To better understand, let’s begin with an example. For instance, you are a surgeon who performs emergency C sections. Due to complications, the mother-to-be is unconscious and is unable to make a decision. You know from past experiences that you can either save the fetus or the mother and you must act fast or else it may lead to two deaths. You are unaware of any personal background information on the patient. What should you do?

In a teleological world, decisions are based on predictions of what the possible consequences may be. The main objective is to pick the one that will bring the most good or happiness to the community which for them is also the most important (Merril 25). This brings up the notion of the summun bonum which is to deliver the greatest good to the most amount of people by maximizing the “utility”. The term is commonly used in utilitarianism. Therefore, there is a need to make a moral calculation in order to reach a final conclusion. This is what is deemed to be right.

There are two possible outcomes from this scenario: to save the mother or to save the fetus. Either of these lost will include pain, so the goal here is minimize the amount of people that it will affect. According to teleology, the correct verdict would be to save the mother. The mother has already established a life and social relationships with friends and family. There will be more people who will grieve for her lost than the one of the fetus who has not yet developed as many relationships. She also has more to offer to society (paying taxes), but the fetus is not guarantee to reach that life expectancy. In other words, her life has more value. Also, the burden and the responsibility of the father will impact him permanently along with his friends and family. Upon this decision, the parents will most likely receive the most amount of pain but it limited to the family. The consequences are less in terms of quantity. In the future, there is also the opportunity of trying to have more children which will lead to more happiness for the community. Hence, saving the mother would seem to be the most reasonable according to teleology.


Work cited:

John C. Merril, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David Gordon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.),Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York:Routledge,2011)


The example you gave with the mother and the fetus is really good. I like the fact that you described what is going through the surgeon’s mind when a situation like this happens. It shows the importance and the weight of the decision that has to be taken. I agree with you, it is not an easy decision.

I can tell this because of a personal experience. When my brother was born, he had eaten his first faeces in my mother’s womb. Therefore, since the faeces are toxic, my brother’s pulse was very low. His heart finally stopped and the two options offered to the doctors were that they try to resuscitate him knowing that he had 95% chances to have aftereffects or they pronounce his death. Neither my mother nor my father were able to help the doctors take the decision since my mother was under the effect of anaesthetics and my dad was on vacation. You can deduce from this that the doctor had to take a fast decision without my parents’ consent. The doctor’s ultimate decision was to pronounce my brother’s death.

In your article you say that the parents can have other children so it is a better decision to save the mother’s life. A decision like this is taken keeping in mind that it has to affect the less number of people. However, I think there is another way to see the situation. If I take your example, but instead of saving the mother, the doctor saves the baby. I agree with you that it will affect more people than the death of the baby, but you do not believe just that all these people will help each other to pass through the pain it causes? While if the doctor decides to save the mother such as in the example you gave, maybe the death of the baby will affect less people, but the parents will be alone to pass through it. This is where what I shared above becomes important because what my parents did not have when they lost my brother is support from the people they love and it is what they needed the most.

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