Passing judgment without the ability to review the context troubles me. Judging an act without seeing the evidence makes no basis for academic discussion regarding the motives or outcome. This exercise will have us judge the actions of a fictional surgeon, whose situations are probably based on facts, during the Korean conflict. Being that this surgeon is a character in a widely available syndicated television show, it surprises me that the particular episode is not available for review. I have taken the time to track down the episode and review it before making comment.
The text (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2009) does state that utilitarians believe that “everyone should perform that act or follow that moral rule that will bring about the greatest good (or happiness) for everyone concerned” (p. 42); however, this description fails to identify the scope and practice of such notions. Whom does this act or rule concern? When does this act or rule gain application? At what point does the actor have enough evidence to make the judgement?
With regards to the M*A*S*H episode (Metcalfe, Reeder, & Mordente, 1979), who is to say that the actions of Col. Lacey did not ultimately save more lives through the heroism of those that he led? Was Lt. Col. Lacey on the verge of improving the tactics of the U. S. Army? Did the unnecessary surgery of Lt. Col. Lacey cost even more lives, then? Lt. Col. Lacey addresses his injured troops, “Your performance over the last few days has given me the confidence to submit a plan to ICOR, a plan for our BN to spearhead a counter-offensive up hill 403, and this time, men, we are going to take it.” This seems to suggest that Lt. Col. Lacey has developed and refined a tactical plan that he feels will prove successful.
In the next sequence, Capt. Pierce questions Col. Lacey’s motives but fails to allow him to answer, putting words in his mouth, and ascribing his own thoughts to Col. Lacey’s motives. After overhearing the Colonel speaking with his General, Capt. Pierce formulates his plan of removing, at least temporarily, Lt. Col. Lacey from his command, and after the successful harvest of a healthy appendix, more injured troops arrive at the 4077. Capt. Honeycut sums up his partner’s actions very simply, “You treated a symptom; the disease goes merrily on.”
After watching the episode and paying special attention to the premise, it seems, at least to me, that this episode deals more with the psychology of Capt. Pierce than with his ethics. It is the psychology of the situation that forces Pierce to act on the situation, in hopes that what he does has an overall positive effect. It does not. Separating ethics from psychology is a mistake, in my opinion. Our psychology changes our perspective and, therefore, should be considered when ethical questions arise.
Utilitarian? The motives of Capt. Pierce were of a self-interested nature. He wanted to feel that he did something instead of standing idle. In my opinion, Capt. Pierce did not have the requisite knowledge to make the utilitarian judgment. I would have done as Col. Potter did in this episode. He notified the upper command of his concerns so that they may be evaluated by people in the position to make a substantive evaluation of a battalion commander.
Metcalfe, B. [Producer], Reeder, T. [Writer], & Mordente, T. [Director]. (1979, February 19). “Preventive Medicine” [Television episode]. M*A*S*H. Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.
Thiroux, J. P., & Krasemann, K. W. (2009). Ethics: Theory and practice (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
1. “Preventive Medicine” was the 22nd episode of the seventh season of M*A*S*H.