Pearson’s Case Theresa Ann Campo Pearson, an anencephalic infant known to the public as “Baby Theresa,” was born in Florida in 1992. Anencephaly is among the worst congenital disorders. Anencephalic infants are sometimes referred to as “babies without brains,” and this gives roughly the right picture, but it is not quite accurate. Important parts of the brain – the cerebrum and cerebellum – are missing, as is the top of the skull. There is, however, a brain stem, and so autonomic functions such as breathing and heartbeat are possible. In the United States, most cases of anencephaly are detected during pregnancy and aborted. Of those not aborted, half are stillborn. About 350 each year are born alive, and they usually die within a few days. Baby Theresa’s story would not be remarkable except for an unusual request made by her parents. Knowing that their baby could not live long and that, even if she did survive, she would never be conscious, Baby Theresa’s parents volunteered her organs for transplant. They thought her kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and eyes should go to other children who could benefit from them. The physicians agreed that this was a good idea. Thousands of infants need transplants each year, and there are never enough organs available. But the organs were not taken; because Florida law does not allow the removal of organs until the donor is dead. By the time Baby Theresa died, nine days later, it was too late for the other children – her organs could not be harvested because they had deteriorated too much. The newspaper stories about Baby Theresa prompted much public discussion. Would it have been right to remove the infant’s organs, thereby causing her immediate death, to help other children? A number of professional “Ethicists” – people employed by universities, hospital, and law schools, whose job it is to think about such things – were called on by the press to comment. Surprisingly few of them agreed with the parents and physicians. (Rachels, James: The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 5th edition by Stuart Rachels. McGraw-Hill, Boston, 2007, pages 1-2.) Try to address the following questions. How the position taken by Theresa’s parents and doctors can be (or can’t be) morally justified by the ethical theories studied so far (virtue ethics, deontology, egoism, cultural relativism, divine command theory, utilitarianism? Which position (parents’ or lawyers’) would you side with and why? Your essay should satisfy the following minimal guidelines: • Typed • 1-2 page(s) • Follow either Chicago, MLA or APA manual of style • Times New Roman 12 • Double space
The case of Baby Theresa presents a complex ethical dilemma that challenges traditional ethical theories. On the one hand, the parents and doctors believed that donating Baby Theresa’s organs would save the lives of other children, and therefore, they should be removed before she died. On the other hand, the prevailing law did not allow organ donation until the donor was declared dead, and removing her organs would have caused her immediate death. In this essay, we will examine how different ethical theories would approach this case and argue which position is most reasonable.
According to virtue ethics, the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on whether it promotes the development of virtues or character traits such as kindness, compassion, and courage. In this case, Baby Theresa’s parents and doctors showed compassion and generosity by wanting to donate her organs to help others. However, they would have violated the virtues of respect for life and integrity by causing her death for the sake of others. Thus, virtue ethics does not provide a clear answer to this case.
Deontological ethics, in contrast, emphasizes the duties and obligations that one has toward others. From this perspective, Baby Theresa has a right to life, and it is morally wrong to intentionally end her life, even if it is for a good cause. Therefore, the position of the parents and doctors cannot be morally justified by deontological ethics.
Egoism, the theory that an action is morally right if it benefits oneself, is not relevant to this case since no one gains any personal benefit from Baby Theresa’s organ donation.
Cultural relativism posits that moral values and beliefs vary across cultures and societies. However, there is no indication that cultural differences played a role in this case.
Divine command theory claims that moral duties are determined by God’s commands. Nevertheless, this theory is also not helpful in this case since there is no agreement on what God’s commands would be.
Utilitarianism, which seeks to maximize overall happiness or pleasure, would argue that the donation of Baby Theresa’s organs could have been justified if it would have resulted in greater overall happiness. However, it is impossible to calculate the potential happiness that could have been generated by the organ donation, and the harm done to Baby Theresa would have been significant.
In my view, the position of the lawyers who did not agree to the organ donation is the most reasonable. Although the donation would have helped other children, it would have required causing Baby Theresa’s death, which is not morally justifiable. Furthermore, the fact that the donation could not have taken place due to the prevailing law underscores the need for legal reforms to allow for ethical and compassionate organ donation.
In conclusion, Baby Theresa’s case raises important questions about the morality of organ donation and the value of life. Although the desire to help others through organ donation is admirable, it cannot come at the cost of intentionally ending an innocent life. Instead, we must work to ensure that organ donation is done in a way that is ethical, legal, and respectful of the dignity of human life.