Submitted By hailymay
The Willowbrook experiment was an opportunistic experiment in which mentally ill children were the victims of and parents were deceived into giving their consent through unethical means such as blackmail. Children were living in a school that was overcrowded and hepatitis was rampant. Instead of the school raising their sanitation standards they took advantage of this and began experimenting with the virus and injecting it into the children. These children had no idea what they were having done to them and no way to understand given their mental state. Some parents were told they would only accept their child if they placed them in the hepatitis wing and gave consent to be involved in the experiment. When parents would tour the facility and a consent form was given to them, the manner at which the school explained the virus sounds like nothing more than a stomach bug that may last for a week at best. Willowbrook made it sound like it was in the best interest of the parents and child if they gave their consent to participate because if they caught hepatitis from another child then the symptoms would be far worse than if they were given a milder dose from the school. There are many ways someone may look at this and ask their self was it justified as we will see.
"Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." This quote is a summary of what Utilitarianism defines. A utilitarian believes that your action should promote happiness that could be on an individual level or group. The opposite of a right act will produce the opposite of happiness as so can no action at all. By Willowbrook subjecting these children into such an experiment it jeopardizes their happiness. By not properly cleaning the school and continuing to allow the children to be plaque by disease where no action was taken they are causing unhappiness for the children and staff that are on the property. The researches attempt to justify that the children were going to get the virus anyways. But they were getting the virus because the school chose not to do anything to improve the sanitation which resulted in sick kids and personnel. Looking at this experiment from a utilitarian stand point I do not agree that the experiment was justified. They could have easily preformed this experiment on adults who knew what was going on or lab rats.
Kantianism is when all actions are based on some universal principal and duty and there are no emotional thoughts involved. Similar to the old saying “what’s good for one, is good for all”. A Kantian could argue that since these children were mentally ill they are all as a group in some way involved in the experiment whether it’s indirectly or directly. But if you have duties or rules like “always tell the truth” then the Willowbrook School and University were in violation of this rule. They failed to tell the parents the full truth about the virus hepatitis and used coercion into getting their consent. They also violated another universal rule of “eliminate needless suffering”. Instead of doing their duty and cleaning the school, Willowbrook took advantage of their school being nasty and profited off of it by allowing such an experiment to take place. I trying to look at this from a Kantianism stand point and there are pros on both sides but in the end I do not think it is justified based on lying and doing more harm to the children.
Intuitionism or Ross’s Ethics are based on morals such as: do not injure patients, do not lie to patients, show patients kindness and understanding, educate patients based on what is useful to them and do not give false hope. If you look at the experiment I do not see how it was justified. First off they harmed the patients, by injecting them with hepatitis or allowing the disease to continue to infect other children by lack of sanitation. Willowbrook may not believe they lied to the parents of the children by telling them they would contract hepatitis during their stay but failed to mention exactly how harmful the virus is, they lied about the severity of the virus. And because they lied to them they were withholding information which led the parents to make an uninformed educated decision in regards to their already mentally handicapped child. Willowbrook did not guide their actions by what is right or moral; therefor their actions were not justified.
Rawls’ Theory is similar to Ross’s except Rowls theory is based on justice and equality for everyone. If you treat everyone equally, then the mentally ill children would not be the only test subjects in the experiment, everyone would be. And since everyone was not subject to being injected with hepatitis this is not justified. Also according to Rawls’ theory it is not right to subject one group to an experiment for the greater good of the population. It is a violation of that individual’s liberties, respect and equality. If someone volunteers they must be rewarded with money, honors or social privileges for their participation. In the case of these children they were not competent enough to make the decision as to participate or not and their only reward they were given was supposedly an education.
Natural Law is based on the rightness of an action that is present in nature through reflection and reasoning. There is in this case a double effect (study and cure hepatitis and experiment on mentally ill children by injecting them with the virus). Natural law uses four steps to determine if an act is justified. 1) The act must be morally good; study/ cure hepatitis can be seen as a morally good medical advancement. 2) The bad effect must not be the means by which the good effect is achieved. The bad effect is injecting children with the hepatitis virus which is the bad effect to meet the means of the good effect thus failing this step. 3) The motive must be the achievement of the good effect only. The motive of the school is to study hepatitis but can be achieved by other means thus failing this step. 4) The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect. The good effect of the study would benefit doctors with information on how the virus works and determine a cure but at the expense of 700 mentally ill children. This law is teetering on being justified for the greater good of the community but are unjustified based on the needs of the individual group of children and is wrong for them to be the victims of such an experiment.…...