Utilitarianism as proposed by John Stuart Mills argues that laws should be made in order to produce the best consequences for a larger group of people as much as possible while deontological thinking as proposed by Immanuel Kant argues that our moral actions should be in tandem with duty, and he further argued that what makes an action right or wrong is not the consequences but the motives of our actions. In light of these ethical theories, we should ask ourselves two questions in relation to our subject of discussion; ‘does testing of pregnant women for drug use bring about greater good to a greater number of people?
’And ‘what are the possible motives of the physicians carrying out such test without the consent of the pregnant women? ’ Answers to these questions would perhaps solve ethical dilemma faced by physicians who encounter pregnant women addicted to drugs like cocaine. The Supreme Court argued that physicians cannot perform drug tests on expectant mothers without first seeking the consent. It further argued that the outcome of such test should not be made available to the police as this would be in contravention of the Fourth Amendment (Asseo, 2001).
Going back to our first question; does testing without consent produce greater good to a greater number of people? My answer is to the affirmative. And are the doctors ill-intentioned? Not all. Although, reporting to the police the outcome of such tests goes against the fiduciary relationship between a physician and his or her patient, the motives of the physician is to protect the child and possibly the mother from the harmful effects of the drug. The courts had in earlier rulings argued that harming a fetus is tantamount to harming a child.
If this indeed is true, the harmful drugs taken by a pregnant woman should be considered as harmful to the development and well-being of the fetus. The doctor’s first challenge would be therefore to check if the fetus is healthy or not and this would involve testing the general health of the pregnant women. Once it is established by the physician that the health of the child is threatened whether through drug abuse by the mother or otherwise, the doctor would recommend treatment for the mother so as to promote the health of both mother and the child.
The motive of testing a pregnant woman therefore is not to report to the police or to intrude into personal privacy but to recommend appropriate treatment for the mother and by extension the child. While the pregnant women have the right to privacy and therefore do not deserve unwarranted search and even police seizure, drug testing by the physicians does produce greater good to a greater number of people. If the physician refrains from performing the drug test and the woman continues to carry the baby, how many people would be affected by the outcome of ill-health as a result of drug use?
The mother’s and the child’s health would be endangered and consequently, the burden of treating two individuals affected by drug would be passed on to the society. But if the doctor had done the test at an appropriate time, how many people would benefit? The pregnant woman would be advised appropriately and put under medical rehabilitation that would not only save the life of the unborn but also improves that of the mother. The moral duty here is therefore to produce greater benefit not only to the mother and the unborn but to the society in general which shall have dealt with the issue of drug problem.
In conclusion, the question as to whether doctors should carry out a drug test on the pregnant women with or without their consent is big yes. The intentions of the doctors and the consequences of such actions are all to the benefit of the woman and her child. The doctors’ first duty is to protect life and testing for drugs is just one way the doctor ensures that both the mother and the unborn are healthy. The outcome of the test is beneficial to both the mother and child. The greater good therefore far outweighs the right to privacy of the mother.
Reference Asseo, L. (2001, March 22). Supreme Court: Hospitals Can’t Drug-Test Moms without Consent, The Associated Press. Retrieved on August 20, 2010, from http://webcache. googleusercontent. com/search? q=cache:RZnX0oU6MpwJ:community. seattletimes. nwsource. com/archive/%3Fdate%3D20010322%26slug%3Dscotus22+TheSupreme+Court+has+ruled+that+physicians+and+other+employees+of+public+hospitalscannot+perform+drug+tests+on+pregnant+women+without+their+consent+and+report+theresults+to+the+polic&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ke&client=firefox-a