Utilitarianism or Deontology

Moral theories evaluate morality typically on the following factors: the agent, or the person’s reasoning behind the action; the action and whether the action is good or bad; or the consequences, or results of the action. Moral theories can evaluate one, two, or all three of the optionsit is all up to the theory itself in what it evaluates. Consequentialism is a broad theory that evaluates morality based on the consequences of our actions (Shafer-Landau, 122). Utilitarianism is like a branch on the tree of consequentialism, or a much more specific sub-theory of consequentialism (Shafer-Landau, 123). John Stuart Mill’s classic form of Utilitarianism aims for the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism focuses on actions being good if they are for the greater good; if they bring about the most possible happiness for the greatest amount of people. (Shafer-Landau, 123).

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The Principle of Utility is the only moral principle that utilitarians judge ethical matters with. The Principle of Utility states that actions are right if and only if they bring about the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people, and they are wrong if they do not (Shafer-Landau, 123). In Utilitarianism, the end justifies the means. Utilitarianism does not care what the action is or what your intentions were for the action. This means that no matter what action you took, your actions’ morality only depends on the results (Shafer-Landau, 126). According to utilitarianism, you can use whatever means to get to an end that benefits the greater good. It looks at the consequences of your actions, not the actions and not the reasoning behind your actions; only at the results. If the results are good, then it was a morally good choice. If your results are bad, then it was a morally bad choice. This means that if you set out to murder an innocent person but missed your aim and killed a terrorist that was about to set a bomb off in a building and kill fifty people, then your action was morally good. It also means that if you tried to save someone’s life who was drowning, but both of you ended up dying, then your actions would be morally wrong. The result is what matters in Utilitarianismif the results of your actions bring about a greater good, then you are doing the right thing. That means that you can use whatever you wanteven peopleas a means to an end, as long as that end brings about good results that promote the most well-being of the most people. (Shafer-Landau, 126).

The ethical issue here is Iceland claiming to have cured Down Syndrome. Of course, any claim to have cured Down Syndrome will draw much attention. If you investigate the claim, though, you’ll realize that Iceland has requiring expectant mothers to be informed about the option to screen their unborn babies for Down Syndrome and other genetic disordersand giving her the option to abort the baby if she wishes, and upwards of eighty percent of women make the decision to do so (CBS News, “What Kind of Society do You Want to Live in?”). This has stirred up controversy on two sidesthose who think it is morally acceptable for babies with Down Syndrome to be aborted, and those who think it is morally unacceptable for babies with Down Syndrome to be aborted. For those who are utilitarians, they believe it is morally acceptable to abort babies with Down Syndrome. Utilitarianists justify their standpoint by listing some positive aspects to aborting babies with Down Syndrome. With Down Syndrome being at the top of the list of the ten most expensive diseases, and Iceland’s pride in their state-funded health care, the abortions of unborn babies with Down Syndrome is seen to save resources and money (American Magazine, Iceland Isn’t Eliminating Down Syndrome). Doing so saves limited and valuable resources, spares the parents from having to raise children with genetic disorders and saves the time, money, and energy of the parents. It also gives the mother the right to do as she wishes with her own body and life (Iceland Magazine, Fact Check).

Aborting babies screened positive also avoids people with Down Syndrome living low quality lives and spends less money from healthcare and insurance. The arguments against aborting babies with Down Syndrome are that it denies babies with genetic disorders the right to life and could be a gross violation of human rights. This makes it comparable to genocide, or the targeting of removing specific groups of people from the world (Psychology Today, Iceland ?Cures’ Down Syndrome). Some argue that it isn’t an actual cure (Psychology Today, Iceland ?Cures’ Down Syndrome). Another argument is that it violates God’s command of protecting innocent life and being commanded to not commit murder, though pro-abortionists argue that it is not murder. Aborting babies with Down Syndrome also reduces the status of the unborn baby, or unborn person, to the that of an item, or a thing that has ended. (The Washington Post, What’s the Real Down Syndrome Problem). While Utilitarianism does consider happinessthe happiness of all, to be specificas a part of ethics, Deontology doesn’t include happiness in the evaluation of morality (Shafer-Landau, 126). Deontology is the study of moral duties, or moral commands (Shafer-Landau, 160). In Deontology, the aim is not happiness, making others feel good, doing good because it feels good to help others, etc. The aim of Deontology is to do good because it is good (Shafer-Landau 169). Deontology’s moral duties are unconditional, which means that doing the right thing for the right reasonbecause it is a good thing to dois the only acceptable reason to do something (Shafer-Landau 169).. This means that if you save someone’s life because it makes you feel good, because you would want someone to save your life someday, etc.; then you’re not making the right moral decision, because you aren’t doing it for the right reason. The only acceptable reason that makes an action morally good or acceptable is if you’re doing something simply because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve covered that in Deontology, our moral duties must be treated as ends in themselves. But what does Deontology say about people? People must be treated as ends in themselves as well, and never as a means only (Shafer-Landau, 176). The Principle of Humanity explains this in detail. According to the Principle of Humanity, we can only use people as a means to an end if they are aware of it and consent to it (Shafer-Landau, 176-177).

An example of this would be asking someone if you can borrow five dollars from them and they agree to it only if you pay them back later. However, if you steal five dollars from someone, then that would be using them only as a means to an endtreating them as an item, an ATM machineand it would therefore be immoral. The Principle of Humanity states that people are not thingspeople are people and should be treated as so, worthy of respect and inherent dignity. In other words, people are ends in themselves and should not be used as items or reduced to the status of an item. Deontology has a very opposing moral view compared to Utilitarianism on the ethical issue of Down Syndrome abortions in Iceland being claimed as a cure. According to Deontologists, it would be morally wrong to abort the unborn baby for having Down Syndrome because it would be using the unborn baby as a means to an end. Some positive aspects of the Deontology standpoint are: first and foremost, it protects all human life, innocent life, and doesn’t violate human rights to life. It makes it clear where the line is drawn for who is qualified for human rights to lifewhich is everyone. Deontology’s ethical reasoning in this situation avoids future psychological pain parents could endure like regret, guilt, anguish, or loss (CBS News, “What Kind of Society do You Want to Live in?”); and physical pain or complications from abortion procedures that parents could endure.

Deontology, while not on a religious level, also obeys God’s commands to protect innocent life and to not commit murder. Another positive aspect of this standpoint is that it doesn’t target a specific group of people. Deontology allows the unborn baby a chance to life without others deciding for them. However, there are some negatives to Deontology’s standpointit violates woman’s right of doing as she wants with her own body (Iceland Magazine, Fact Check), which is a controversial issue when it comes to abortion as some will argue that it is not only her body involved but also another human’s. While parents are allowed to make choices medically for their own children until the child is a certain age, but pro-abortion arguments justify this by calling the unborn baby a fetus and reducing it to be an item: which brings the argument back around to where the line is drawn in Utilitarianism. Not aborting the unborn baby uses more resources, and forces parents to raise an unwanted child, resulting in more time, money, and energy on the parent’s and taxpayers’s part. The child could have also had a low quality of life from the different health issues and treatments they may receive (The Washington Post, What’s the Real Down Syndrome Problem).

Lastly, more children could end up for adoption or in the foster home system if less children are aborted. Iceland, while screening for babies with Down Syndrome and aborting them, may not be forcing the parents or mother to abortbut giving her the option could be persuading enough to compromise the autonomy of the patient. (CBS News, Behind the Lens). The first issue here is the autonomy of the patientsthe pregnant mother and the unborn child. Kacy Cherry emphasizes that, That question alone, according to Ingadottir, pushes women to view Down Syndrome negatively, as something to be screened out (CBS News, Behind the Lens). If the mother is in any way being persuaded “with the option of being able to have the screening for her baby, or by being told that most women do it (CBS News, What Kind of Society do You Want to Live in?)the autonomy of one of the doctor’s patients could be under some influence. Also, the baby does not have any choice or voice for itself and its rights to life when it comes to abortion under current laws and medical procedures. Wouldn’t having a right to live be better than having no life at all? Some argue that it would avoid misery and a low quality of life for people with genetic disorders to be aborted. But how are we to judge the quality of someone else’s life? Quality of life varies from person to person, no matter the circumstances. Not to mention, the Average life expectancy is now around 60 years, up from around 25 years four decades ago, when many Down Syndrome people were institutionalized or otherwise isolated, denied education and other stimulation, and generally not treated as people (The Washington Post, Whats the Real Down Syndrome Problem).

We cannot judge someone else’s life and the amount of happiness they have in it, only our own life. Aborting unborn babies with genetic disorders draws a very shaky line of the rights of human life and who is qualified for those rights. The rules of abortion should be very clear and consistent. The unborn human should have the same rights to lifeand their own bodyas the mother does. Aborting unborn humans on certain conditions could also qualify as genocide, targeting a specific group of people (Psychology Today, Iceland Cures Down Syndrome). Using Deontology protects innocent life for the right reasonbecause it is the right thing to do. Deontology treats human beings as human beings, regardless of age, gender, genetic abnormality, etc. Deontology’s standpoint on the ethical issue going on in Iceland is one that I can agree withthat all human beings are inherently valuable. While I agree with Deontology’s standpoint on an ethical level all by itself, I also agree with this on a moral level from my own personal beliefs and religion.

Firstly, I agree with the view of human beings having inherent value because every person should have the right to life. Deontology’s moral theory protects any future children I may have and protects all of the people around me from being killed, aborted, or screened out (CBS News, Behind the Lens) of society. It protects my personal life decisions and medical situations from being manipulated by any doctors or government parties. With this standpoint, I am denied the right to have an abortion. In this situation specifically, I side with Deontology because it prevents unnecessary and grey area abortions, though I do disagree on all abortion being ruled out completely. In my view, abortion should only be allowed if it is a survival situation in which both the mother and child could die or the mother could die if she continues her pregnancy. Deontology does have some negatives for me as well. Out of the two, I would be happy to oblige with its’ rules because I feel it is the lesser of two evils. My viewpoints on this are also from a Christian perspectiveGod has told me that I should never commit murder. As Deontology clearly defines what or who qualifies as a human, I have a clear understanding that by doing the right thing and valuing human life inherently, then I am morally doing the right thing. God has also assigned inherent value to human life, and by following Deontology’s perspective, I am not only doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do but also following my religion and the commandments of God. God has given us free will to make whatever choices we want in life, but he wants us to make the right choice because it is the right thing to do. In the Bible, there is a passage that I feel explains my previous sentence much more solidly, I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19).

There is a wide variety of opinions and beliefs in any culturally diverse society. According to Deontology, women would not be permitted to have an abortion period. I find this a better option than allowing women to decide whether their childanother human beingshould have the right to live or not. However, there is some shaky ground hereI do believe that women should have the right to abortion if her life is in danger. Deontology does not give us this option, but overall, I find Deontology’s theory a much better approach for everyone’s moral evaluation than Utilitarianism’s theory as Deontology protects all human lives. We all have a secure right to live. No one would be allowed to use anyone’s life as merely a means to an end. It protects all innocent lives and unborn lives. Lastly, Deontology protects the autonomy of patients without doctor or government influence. These are all matters that should be respected no matter a person’s age, gender, race, religion, disability or not, etc. Ultimately, when deciding between Deontology and Utilitarianism, Deontology is the lesser of two evilsand in the long run, it protects all of us, no matter our age, gender, race, religion, whether we have a disability or not, etc. for the long run, and grants us more solid rights that cannot be bent against others’ opinions.

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Utilitarianism Or Deontology. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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