What decision should the parents have made?

Applied ethics

Jodie and Mary were conjoined twins sharing a single heart and a single pair of lung. 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 the purposes of 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, and not with who has the right to make the decision. Plausibly, the parents had that right and it was violated by the court. But we can still ask: What decision should the parents have made?

Utilitarians are consequentialists, and consequentialism itself is a hotly debated idea among moral philosophers. The idea that we should always act so as to bring about the best outcome is incredibly attractive, but many have found it to be very objectionable. Kantians, for example, 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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