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The Ethics of Addiction, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 806

Essay

The hypothetical case in which a heroin addict, because of her addiction, makes clear harm to herself and to that surround her, clearly presents an ethical issue: to what extent is an intervention to stop the actions of the junkie justified, or, from the other perspective, is such an action fundamentally unethical? In other words, the hypothetical scenario can only be properly answered by considering various ethical theories, which endeavor to speculate as to what is ethical behavior in itself, and thereby formulate a resolution according to these theories. In other words, an ethical intervention in the case of a heroin addict is by definition based upon some type of logic as to why this intervention is not necessary: ethics implies that we do not merely react emotionally to the situation at hand, and thereby let emotions dictate the course of action. Instead, ethics by its very definition suggests that we must rationally decide upon the path towards achieving a correct solution: the clearly philosophical problem is that we precisely have to define what such “correctness” in this case entails.

The junkie in this situation is clearly harming themselves. The negative effects of heroin are not only physical, namely that the body develops a physical need for the drug, thus making heroin one of the most dangerous forms of hard drugs available. The negative effects of heroin are also social, as, for example, the addict will devote all their economic resources to feeding their habit, making them unable to hold a normal job and live according to so-called “normal” social mores. Furthermore, the heroin addict with a family and friends obviously hurts those around them through their suffering: watching a loved one fall to the preys of an addiction is like watching the deterioration of the individual before one’s eyes. In addition, the addiction to the drug may cause the addict to turn away from her friends or families, as the drug becomes the dominant factor in their existence. Accordingly, the negative effects of the addict are felt not only on an individual level, but also on a larger social context: self-destruction in this case is not merely a destruction of the self, but others as well.

Using various ethical positions to think about this scenario, it is clear that competing ethical positions will propose various solutions to the problem. Hence, a liberal ethical theory, based on hypotheses of individualism, will immediately state that the decision to use the drug is an individual choice: so long as it does not harm others, then there is no ethical foundation for intervention. Obviously, the situation is complicated by an addiction that complicates and damages the lives of the surrounding loved ones of the addict: does the individual liberal theory of ethics hold in this case? It would appear not to: the problem is not merely one of individual choice, but the self-destruction of a loved one occurring right before one’s eyes; furthermore, it is a problem of the destruction of a social community who have relationships with the junkie. Insofar as we find our meaning in life in our social relationships, isolating the junkie as an individual appears to be an entirely inhumane ethical choice.

Accordingly, perhaps we could approach the situation from a more universal form of ethics, one that invests in relationships to others. In this case, the so-called deontological ethical theory seems to represent precisely a concern with such relationships, since it is an ethics based upon duty and obligation. Namely, deontology stresses that we cannot maintain a relative position to ethics, but at the same time ethics is made up of relationships. We are obliged to act and seek help for this person, simply because we recognize that the addict is destroying herself and those around her. The obligation here in this case is to an idea that we must preserve the lives of those in danger; we must preserve our most precious relationships. In this case, with the clear negative effects of the heroin addiction, we are obliged to act to stop a behavior that is clearly detrimental to all those involved in the scenario.

Accordingly, arguing about the case of the heroin addict from a perspective of ethics means that we have to find a rational argumentation about how to act. In the case of a liberal or individualist approach to ethics, there appears to be a fundamental lack of concern for the clear suffering of another: one displaces the emotion of compassion for a notion of abstract individual autonomy. In contrast, the so-called deontological approach, since it emphasizes duties and obligations in our relationships, allows us to develop precisely such a compassionate approach: in the case of the heroin addict, this compassion manifests itself in an attempt to stop self-destruction and the destruction of others that occurs with the use of this highly addictive drug.

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