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Jodie and Mary were conjoined twins sharing a single heart and a single pair of lungs. Without intervention, both would die within six months. If separated, Jodie would live, but Mary would die immediately. The parents refused permission to operate, believing that it would be wrong to hasten Mary’s death. Devout Catholics, they said that “nature should take its course” and “If it’s God’s will that both our children should not survive, then so be it.” After a court intervention, the operation was performed over the parents’ objection, and as expected, Jodie lived, and Mary died.
For this discussion, we will assume that Jodie can go on to live a fairly normal life. This is not a case where Jodie’s death would not be a harm to her.
Also, we will be concerned with which course of action would be the right one, not with who has the right to decide. Plausibly, the parents had that right, and the court violated it. But we can still ask: What decision should the parents have made? How would a Utilitarian, Kantian and Virtue Ethicist differ in their reasoning when making this ethical decision?
Utilitarians are consequentialists, and consequentialism itself is a hotly debated idea among moral philosophers. The idea that we should always act to bring about the best outcome is lovely, but many have found it very objectionable. For example, Kantians are anti-consequentialists and would argue in this case that it is always wrong to sacrifice the life of one to save the life of another.
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