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The Philosophical Approaches of Kant’s Deontology and Mill’s Utilitarianism in Reviewing the Movie Extreme Measures

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The Philosophical Approaches of Kant’s Deontology and Mill’s Utilitarianism in Reviewing the Movie Extreme Measures

In the 1997 film Extreme Measures a young British doctor, Guy Luthan, who is serving a residency in a New York hospital, is faced with some difficult moral and professional dilemmas. This film used Dr. Luthan's dilemmas, which dealt with these sensitive issues of doing what is right regardless of the consequences involved, as well as questions involving scientific advancement and experimentation. How far can medicine go in the name of progress or helping humanity? Dr. Luthan discovers that homeless people were being used as guinea pigs in experimental research for the good of humanity.

Using the philosophical approaches of Kant's Deontology and Mill's Utilitarianism, I will present the ethical parameters of Dr. Luthan's dilemmas and how these two theories explore the moral nature of human beings. Kant's moral system is based on a belief that reason is the final authority for morality, where as Mill's is based upon utility, or doing what produces the greatest happiness. Based on these theories and their perspectives, I will explain why I believe that Kant's approach provides a more plausible account of morality in Dr. Luthan's dilemmas.

Dr. Luthan has several personal and professional dilemmas to face in this film, but I will focus on the two main ones; the first is deciding which patient he'll send to the only available operating room and the second is his investigational discovery of a neurologist colleague, Dr. Myrick, who has been conducting secret experiments using homeless patients as guinea pigs.

The first dilemma starts with Dr. Luthan in the emergency room and has to choose between two patients who need urgent care: a "barely stabilized" (Rosenstand) police officer who has been shot, and the "troublemaker" (Rosenstand) that shot him, whose condition is worse. Dr. Luthan has only seconds to decide which one should go to the only available operating room and he chooses the police officer. He is then bothered by whether he made the right decision or an unprofessional moral choice.

I believe Mill's would have approved of Dr. Luthan's choice. Although Rosenstand's film narrative does not give details about the "troublemaker's" personal life, she identifies that the police officer has a family, so his living would produce the most happiness for the most people. This police officer would also be alive to continue making society a better place by convicting more "troublemakers."

Kant too would have approved of this decision, but for other reasons. He would believe that Dr. Luthan felt he was doing his moral duty and had the right intentions, no matter what the consequences, even if one of them had died.

The other main dilemma arises for Dr. Luthan when the emergency room receives a man in "complete physical and mental breakdown." (Rosenstand) This man dies from mysterious symptoms, so Dr. Luthan begins to investigate and his probing jeopardizes him personally and professionally. His apartment is burglarized and while the police are investigating, they find drugs and arrest him; therefore, he is suspended from his job and everyone assumes he is guilty. Even with these events happening, he is still compelled to seek the truth about this man's death and eventually finds out that a neurology colleague, Dr. Lawrence Myrick, who according to Rosenstand has been doing experimental research into spinal cord regeneration by using homeless patients as guinea pigs for the good of humanity. Rosenstand then states a dialogue between Dr. Myrick and Dr. Luthan. Dr. Myrick felt these patients were useless beings, but now they are heroes, since their deaths have given hope to so many injured people and then asks Dr. Luthan "if you could cure cancer by killing one person, wouldn't you have to do it?" Dr. Luthan replies, "that perhaps the homeless people weren't worth much, but they didn't choose to be heroes-he never asked for volunteers", and he felt Dr. Myrick was playing God. Dr. Luthan later receives all of Dr. Myrick's research files, which he does not reject.

One of Kant's contributions to moral philosophy was his emphasis on respect for people. He believes that we should never treat a rational being as merely a means to an end, but respect for all individuals; that they are unique and should be respected as a person, never to be sold out to the happiness of the majority. Rosenstand states Kant "human beings and their bodies are not commodities to be used for someone else's purpose, even if that purpose may be the greater good" and "if the way to produce the most utility is to perform an act that violates the rights of a few, than it is morally right to perform that act, but shouldn't individual's rights

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