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Evaluate A Utilitarian Approach To Abortion

1333 words - 6 pages

Abortion, the deliberate termination of a pregnancy, has been the subject of discussion and controversy for many decades. Utilitarianism is the chief teleological ethical theory today which considers the consequences of an action; such as abortion. This ethical approach to abortion is useful because it determines that “an action is right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number”. It considers the hedonic calculus, designed by Bentham, which weighs up the pleasure and pain generated by the available moral actions; the theory mainly focuses on both pleasure and pain and the ability to maximize pleasure over pain. It also emphasises the ends of abortion over its means; so it ...view middle of the document...

However, act utilitarianism, is considered a flawed theory because it can be seen as a tool to justify potentially evil actions purely because it fulfils the principle of bringing the greatest good to the greatest number. In relation to abortion, this could happen if a foetus is aborted simply because the family do not see a child as fitting with their current lifestyle, which some people would argue is an immoral choice, but it is justified by the theory; this illustrates that the theory doesn’t protect the interests of the minority.
In his utilitarian approach to abortion, Bentham would use the hedonic calculus which he designed to weigh up the pain and pleasure generated by the available moral actions to find the best option. It is potentially essential in relation to abortion because it determines whether it is intrinsically right or wrong, based on seven factors. Firstly the intensity of the pleasure, for example hearing your child’s first word. Secondly, the duration of the pleasure caused, might refer to the lifelong highs or lows from your child. An abortion demonstrates the certainty/uncertainty of the act because the mother may experience guilt and sorrow without the child or may experience freedom from not having the child. The remoteness/propinquity of the pleasure relates to whether the relief is immediate or a long way away. The richness of the pleasure may refer to the birth of a baby, which will bring happiness to many. The purity of the pleasure means whether the action will bring more or less harm, for example, by having a child at a young age could jeopardise an education or a career. Finally, the extent of the pleasure amounts to the number of people affected by it, such as the effect a newborn can have on a whole family. This method is effective in decision making because the calculations can be made over a longer period of time. However, having an abortion because of financial pressures, other family members' needs, education, work, may be justified by the calculus. Bentham concluded that the action that produces the best consequences is the morally correct option to follow. Although the hedonic calculus seems to have been purpose built for abortion, the negatives of the quantative method outweigh the positives by far.
Mill developed Bentham’s theory by emphasising that it is not the quantity of pleasure, but the quality of happiness that is central to utilitarianism and the issue of abortion. He argued that Bentham’s hedonic calculus is unreasonable because qualities cannot be quantified. Mill believed that there is a distinction between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures. He accepted the idea of a woman giving birth because the outcome of that would be a child so it would be a higher pleasure for the parents and as a consequence the child would cause much pleasure for the parents, whose individual liberty to choose to have a child is maintained. As a rule utilitarian, Mill was concerned with which certain actions have...

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