Case Study IV

First, please be sure that you have reviewed and understood the instructions for Case Studies, especially regarding formatting instructions, before beginning the fourth case study. Since there are still some who ignore the instructions, this time let us specify that failure to follow formatting and submission guidelines will result in a 50 point loss on the assignment.

Further, those ten or so students who are attempting to take the class as a remote or distance-education course simply end up demonstrating their ignorance of the material by, say, googling 'kant's ethics' and writing whatever they find. As those students have discovered, it is impossible to get a good grade employing this strategy. It behooves them, then, to at least attempt to learn the class material by reviewing all the lecture notes, handouts, readings, and synopses (especially) before thinking they are in a position to conduct an informed and analytically sophisticated case study.

Answer each of the following questions in the 'Argument' section of your Case Study, making sure to clearly indicate which question you are answering.

  1. What features of the following case would a utilitarian (of any stripe) identify as morally relevant? Kantian? Contractarian?
  2. Given your answers in (1), what conflicts between theoretical approaches arise in the case?
  3. Which specific theoretical approach (one of the UET's, KET, or SCT) do you find most defensible, and why?
  4. What is the implication of the theory you defended in (3) regarding the puzzle of whether it was morally right for Mary to kill Sebastian, and how do you argue the theory has the implication you've specified?

Sebastian's Demise

Although he is an otherwise normal, intelligent, and healthy seven year-old boy, Sebastian has leukemia.

I should say that Sebastian is healthy in all respects except those directly and indirectly related to his leukemia. He is emotionally stable and has all the hopes, fears, and dreams of other seven year-old boys. He is, however, much more mature than others his age. He has had to come to grips with a fear no other seven year-old entertains--the fear of dying. Even though some physicians and nurses have gone to great lengths to keep Sebastian in the dark about his illness, Sebastian's parents, Mary and Steven, have always told Sebastian every thing they knew. When Sebastian was first diagnosed, Mary and Steven decided that it would be best to be honest with their only son. He has handled it better than they expected.

It looks now as though Sebastian's disease is terminal. Painful bone-marrow transplants and chemotherapy have not proven effective. Worse, Sebastian is extremely thin because of nausea from the treatments. He's lost all his hair and he's extremely frail. Mary and Steven are heartbroken whenever they see their child. Sebastian tries his best, for his parents' sake, he thinks, to stay cheerful and act as normal as he can. But sometimes, late at night in the pediatric-oncology ward, Sebastian cries. He is faced with the terrible knowledge that he will die. He doesn't want to lose his parents. He doesn't want to lose all his friends in the ward.

Steven and Mary both work to try to pay the bills, running by the hospital as often as they can to see Sebastian. On a warm fall day Mary takes a long lunch and, getting a wheelchair for Sebastian, takes him for a walk around the hospital grounds. It's not a good day for Sebastian. The doctors have been running more tests, and some of them make him sick.

"Mom," Sebastian says, "I'm not gonna be cured, am I?"

"I don't know, Sebastian. Nothing the doctors have tried has worked. Maybe they'll come up with something, though."

"They wont. I heard Dr. Srinavasan talking to another doctor. They thought I was asleep. She said that it wouldn't be long for me. She said that they've done everything they could."

Mary started to tear up. She was glad Sebastion couldn't see her.


"Yes, honey?"

"Thomas died last week. He just kept getting worse and worse. They finally took him to another room, but I know he died. Everybody knows. I don't want to die like that."

"What do you mean, Sebastian?"

"You remember when I was five and we took Kitty to the vet and put her to sleep?"

"Yes, dear, I remember."


"Yes, dear?"

"Would you put me to sleep, before I get really bad?"

Mary was glad that she had the wheelchair to lean against.

That night, she told Steven about what Sebastian had said. Steven was outraged that Mary would even consider it. He insisted as he always did that they would find a cure at the last minute. Steven stormed out of the bedroom and went to sleep on the couch.

Mary was torn. The following week, as Sebastian's health visibly deteriorated, was one of the hardest weeks of her life. She stops by one day after work, giving Sebastian a pill to help with his nausea. They sit and talk for a while. Then she gives him 10 or 12 pills to take, telling him "it's all going to be alright, Sebastian."

She held his hand long after his breathing had stopped and his hand had gone limp in hers.