[1.1] The Case of Baby Theresa.
Theresa Ann Campo Pearson was born in Florida on March 21, 1992. News accounts of her story referred to her simply as “Baby Theresa.” She suffered from
anencephaly (df.): the condition of an infant born with its cerebrum, cerebellum and part of its skull and scalp missing; infants born with this condition will never be conscious and nearly always die within several days after birth.
· “Anencephaly occurs in one in 500 pregnancies. Over 95 percent identified prenatally are aborted. Of those carried to term, 60 percent are stillborn. … About 300 anencephalic babies are born alive each year.” (Pence 248)
· Anencephalic infants who are alive at birth usually die within a few hours or days.
· “[W]ith maximal supportive care, some anencephalic infants could survive indefinitely.” (Pence 250)
· Baby Theresa’s parents were unmarried, and her mother, Laura Campo, had no medical insurance. She did not see a doctor about her pregnancy until her 24th week, and she did not learn that the child she carried was anencephalic until the eighth month of her pregnancy, too late for a legal abortion to be performed. “Like most mothers of anencephalic fetuses, Laura said that if she had known the diagnosis earlier, she would have aborted.” (Pence 248)
“Anencephalics are the major potential source of donor organs for other babies born with congenital defects. When the recipient is an infant, a donor organ must be very small, and so an infant donor is needed. However, few infants are involved in accidents that leave them brain dead but with healthy organs. Babies who die as a result of abuse or from sudden infant death syndrome usually have damaged organs that are unsuitable for transplantation.” (Pence 248, emphasis added)
Theresa’s parents wanted to donate her organs to other infants, and their physicians agreed. For this to work, they could not wait for her to die naturally—by that time her organs would be too degraded to be transplanted into other bodies.
However, removing her organs would cause immediate death, and Florida law prohibits removing organs until the organ donor is legally dead. A circuit court judge determined that, even though Theresa was anencephalic, she was not legally dead. So Theresa’s organs were not removed. She died on the ninth day after she was born, and her organs were never used.
There was a serious difference of opinion in this case. Some people thought taking the organs would be immoral; but others (including Theresa’s parents and physicians) thought that it would be morally permissible (i.e., that it would not be immoral) to take the organs. Parties on both sides of this debate gave reasons to support their opinions…
[1.1.2.] Reasons Give in the Baby Theresa Case.
But we do not want to know simply what people’s opinions are about this case. We want to know the TRUTH of the matter. Would taking those organs, and thereby killing Baby Theresa, have been immoral or morally permissible?
To discover which position is correct, we must look at the reasons that can be given on each side.
1 (adapted from EMP pp.2-3)
If we can benefit someone without harming anyone else, it is morally permissible to do so.
Transplanting the organs would benefit the other children without harming Baby Theresa.
Therefore, it is morally permissible to transplant the organs.
2 (adapted from EMP pp.4-5)
It is immoral to kill one person to save another.
Taking Theresa’s organs would be killing her to save others.
Therefore, taking the organs would be immoral.
[1.2.] Ethics, Philosophy, Inquiry.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy.
The word “philosophy” derives from the Greek words for love (philo) and wisdom (sophia).
For the ancient Greeks, “philosophy” was love of wisdom. But while this might give us the beginning of an idea of what philosophers do today, we need to get more specific to really understand what contemporary philosophy is.
[Warning: not all contemporary philosophers would agree with the following explanation of philosophy. The nature of philosophy is itself a controversial issue among philosophers.]
Philosophy is an area of inquiry.
inquiry (df.): an attempt to discover truths about the world; research.
In this way, philosophy is like the sciences, historical research, investigative journalism, and detective work. People working in all of these areas don’t simply pose questions… they also attempt to answer those questions as accurately as possible.
But philosophy is different than these other areas of inquiry in the following way: the truths philosophy attempts to discover involve concepts that are more fundamental (i.e., more general and widespread) than those pursued by other areas of inquiry—concepts like God, knowledge, truth, the mind and consciousness, free will, right and wrong. So philosophy is inquiry into some of the most fundamental issues that face all human beings.
philosophy (df.): the area of inquiry that attempts to discover truths involving fundamental concepts, such as the concepts of God, reality, the meaning of life, knowledge, truth, the mind and consciousness, free will, right and wrong.
[Again, not all philosophers would agree with this definition of philosophy!]
Some of the central questions of philosophy are:
· Is there a God? If so, what is he (or she, or it) like? Is the existence of evil compatible with the existence of an all-caring, all-knowing, all-powerful God?
· Is the omniscience (all-knowingness) of God compatible with peoples’ free will? Do people have free will to begin with?
· What is the mind, and what is the relationship between the mind and the brain?
· What is knowledge, and do we know anything to begin with? Are there things about the world that humans are incapable of knowing?
· What is it for an action or behavior to be morally good or bad? What is the morally best way for people to live? Does morality depend on God? Does it depend on society? Is abortion morally permissible? What about torturing terror suspects? Same-sex marriage? Are there objective moral facts, or is morality simply a matter of opinion?
Those last examples are within the field of ethics:
ethics (df.): the area of philosophy that attempts to answer questions involving concepts such as right/wrong, good/bad, moral/immoral, etc. [In RTD ch.1, Rachels uses the phrase phrase “moral philosophy” to refer to ethics.]
[1.3.] What This Class Requires From You.
We will be looking at some moral beliefs that you may already hold, and we will be asking whether there is good reason to think that those beliefs are true. Some people may find this uncomfortable or even painful. This will especially be the case if you have been taught all your life that some things should not be questioned but must be accepted on faith.
My job is not to force you to change your mind about anything. But I will require you to think about the reasons for some of your beliefs, as well as about reasons for theories and claims that you may disagree with. You will be required to demonstrate to me that you understand these reasons. If you don’t think they are good reasons, that’s fine. But just saying so won’t be enough. You will need to try to articulate why you think this.
Your job will be to master the concepts, theories and arguments that we examine. You will need to demonstrate to me that you have thoroughly and deeply understood the material we have studied, whether or not you agree with all of it.
Some material will be simple, but other material can be very subtle and hard to grasp, so it is important that you dedicate a lot of time to reading, studying and thinking about the course material as we go along. Rule of thumb: you should spend three hours outside of class reading, studying, etc., for every hour you spend in class. That translates to eight hours per week for just this class.
You will be given reading assignments on a regular basis. These should not be taken lightly. Reading philosophy is not like reading any other sort of writing. You will probably need to read some passages several times before they start to “sink in.” I recommend making lots of notes as you read. This will force you to actually think about what you are reading. If you don’t think about it as you read it, you may as well not read it at all—it won’t “stick in your head” like a novel or piece of history would.
Also, it will be helpful (not just in this class but in general) to have a good dictionary nearby and to look up unfamiliar words. You often need to understand a passage fully in order to understand the ideas it contains. And unless you know all of the words, you may not be able fully to understand it.
Stopping point for Tuesday January 5. For next time:
1. Read the syllabus thoroughly and let me know as soon as possible if you have any questions.
2. Your first reading assignment: EMP ch.1 (all) and RTD ch.2 pp.19-21.
3. You may have a pop quiz* at the beginning of the next class over this reading AND over today’s online lecture notes.
*The format of our pop quizzes will usually (but not always) be as follows:
1. one question from the assigned reading for that day;
2. one question from the previous days lecture notes (I especially like to ask you to define a term given in those notes).
 This case is described in Elements of Moral Philosophy ch.1, one of your readings for the next class meeting.
 For more information, see “NINDS Anencephaly Information Page,” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke < http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/anencephaly/anencephaly.htm >, retrieved August 26, 2013.
 References to Pence are to Gregory Pence, Medical Ethics: Accounts of Ground-Breaking Cases, 6th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, 2011.
 NINDS Anencephaly Information Page, URL = < http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/anencephaly/anencephaly.htm#What_is_the_prognosis >, retrieved August 26, 2013.
 Currently, abortion is illegal at the 24th week of pregnancy in Florida. Guttmacher Institute, “State Policies in Brief as of August 1, 2013,” URL = < http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_OAL.pdf>, retrieved August 26, 2013.
 The judge in question relied in part on the so-called Harvard Criteria of brain death, which include lack of spontaneous breathing. Theresa was breathing on her own, so she did not meet these criteria of brain death. Months after Baby Theresa died, the Florida Supreme Court considered the matter and upheld the lower court’s decision. The full text of its decision in this case is here: < http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~phils4/tacp.html >.
This page last updated 1/7/2014.
Copyright © 2014 Robert Lane. All rights reserved.