Utilitarian Ethics in Action

Devorah Goldman writes for the Witherspoon Institute’s weblog, Public Discourse, about the state-ordered death of 23-month-old Alfie Evans:

Having determined the “best course of treatment” for Alfie, British medical experts refused to consider that he might be better cared for elsewhere, and the courts merely backed them up. Others have argued that it reflects England’s entrenched class hierarchy, as Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, appeared to be a working-class couple facing off against the ruling elite. Still others have claimed that the conflict contained a religious component: Tom travelled to Rome to invoke the assistance of Pope Francis, who gave him a compassionate welcome, while the Archbishop of Liverpool sided with the U.K. establishment. Further, the Italian priest who had been ministering to the Evans family was ordered to leave the hospital.

These possible underlying motives aside, the hospital’s actions seem to be in line with the utilitarian ethics of Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher who has argued that the value of human life is not inherent, but rather based on external factors such as health, intelligence, rational self-consciousness, and quality of life. In the 1993 edition of Practical Ethics, Singer devoted a chapter to discussing the taking of human life. He concluded that “killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”

Read “King Solomon, the False Mother, and Alfie Evans


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