Life-Sustaining Treatment: Utilitarian View

Table of Contents


Contemporary society faces many moral issues in diverse spheres. They can be personal or global, practical or theoretical, but they all demand making a decision by a person who came across a moral dilemma. Healthcare is a sphere with some burning moral issues that cause active discussions. For example, the problem of life-sustaining treatment in case there is no chance for improvement implies both ethical and moral aspects. This paper presents the moral issue of ending life-sustaining treatment, applies the principle of utilitarianism to support the decision about this problem, and regards Bentham’s Felicific Calculus.

Moral Issue Summary

The moral issue under consideration is about the patient after an accident. The young man receives life-support treatment, but his brain was declared dead. Therefore, there is no chance for recovery even though other organs are healthy. Healthcare provider considers further treatment to be unreasonable and suggests to switch off life support. The parents of the patient are religious and refuse this action considering it to be similar to murder or suicide. Still, representatives of the healthcare provider explain the difference between withdrawal of the ventilator, suicide, and euthanasia (Welie and Have 1).

The family promises to make their decision after some time. Moreover, since his organs are functioning and healthy, the young man can become a donor and save lives of other people who are waiting for transplantation. Finally, the parents agree to stop life support of their son although it was a difficult moral decision. Also, they allowed transplantation of his healthy organs.

Applying the Principle of Utilitarianism

From the point of view of Utilitarianism, the action or decision is right as long as it brings happiness (Westacott). Thus, the morality of a decision depends on its consequences. The moral issue under discussion is controversial in terms of Utilitarianism. On the one hand, the decision of parents to stop life support of their son and their agreement for transplantation will bring happiness to patients who have been waiting for organs as well as their relatives. On the other hand, the parents themselves can feel bad and not happy because they did not manage to save their son. Nevertheless, considering the fact that more people benefit from their decision about the moral issue than could have been in case they insisted on life support, their action is right under the principle of Utilitarianism.

Application of Bentham’s Felicific Calculus

Another issue related to happiness measurement is Bentham’s Felicific Calculus. He also addresses the principles of utility in his work (Brunon-Ernst 2). His Felicific Calculus was aimed at the assessment of pain and pleasure units thus calculating the level of happiness. Applying this calculus to the discussed moral issue, the following considerations should be made. As for intensity of pleasure and pain, pleasure of the patients who receive organs is greater than pain of the patient’s parents. Also, pleasure of their healthy lives will last longer. As for the number of people affected, more of them will be happy than unhappy. Consequently, the decision about the moral issue is correct and will bring happiness to many people.


On the whole, moral issues imply complicated processes of decision-making. It is important to evaluate the possible outcomes in case of different decisions. The Utilitarian principle and concepts discussed by Bentham can empower the decision-making and allow people to evaluate their decision from the point of view of happiness it brings.

Works Cited

Brunon-Ernst, Anne. “The Felicific Calculus. Jeremy Bentham’s Definition of Happiness.” Well-Being: Towards a Cross-Cultural Definition: Proceedings of a Conference Held January 2014 at Université Panthéon-Assas Paris, 2014, pp. 1-14.

Welie, Jos, and Henk Have. “The Ethics of Forgoing Life-Sustaining Treatment: Theoretical Considerations and Clinical Decision-Making.” Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-8.

Westacott, Emrys. “The Basic Principles of Utilitarianism.” ThoughtCo. Web.

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