Analyzing Ethical Dilemmas in Film

Words: 2029
Pages: 8
Subject: Ethnicity Studies

Assignment Question

Instructions: This assignment requires you to use Stage One of the Ethical Analysis Essay – Create an Outline as your starting point for writing an essay that analyzes the ethical dimensions in the film you have already selected. If you have not selected a film, please choose from the list below. If you cannot access these films, you may select a different film, but you will require prior approval from your instructor. Films for Ethical Analysis Essay John Q (2002) – Story centers on a man whose nine-year-old son desperately needs a life-saving transplant. When he discovers that his medical insurance will not cover surgery costs and alternative government aid is unavailable, John Q. Archibald takes a hospital emergency room hostage in a final attempt to save his child. Your film analysis should feature the application of one (or more) of the following ethical theories listed below: Virtue Ethics Utilitarian Ethics Moral Sense Theory (Conscience) Social Contract Theory The Ethics of Care Kantian Ethics Moral Relativism Essay Format Title Page – In APA format, include your paper’s title, your name, and your institution (i.e., Galen College), in that order. Introduction – Provide a brief synopsis of the film that includes the ethical dilemma present in the film. Introduce the ethical theory you will use to analyze the film. Ethical Analysis – Apply one ethical theory to the medical ethical dilemma presented in the film. First, describe this ethical theory in your own words, using the readings and course materials as textual evidence for your explanation of the moral view. Next, discuss how this ethical theory could provide solutions or recommendations for remedying the ethical dilemma featured in the film. In your analysis, be sure to address the following questions: What moral values are present in the film (as they relate to the ethical theory you have chosen)? Are there instances of moral values in conflict with one another? What moral guidance does the ethical theory that you selected provide the characters in the film? Reflection – Summarize what you have discussed in the essay and reflect on what you have learned. Lastly, discuss how what you have learned could be applied to your professional and personal life.



The film “John Q,” directed by Nick Cassavetes in 2002, revolves around the harrowing ethical dilemma faced by John Q. Archibald, a desperate father whose nine-year-old son, Michael, requires a life-saving heart transplant. When John Q. discovers that his medical insurance will not cover the surgery costs and alternative government aid is unavailable, he resorts to drastic measures. He takes a hospital emergency room hostage as a final attempt to save his child’s life, raising profound ethical questions about justice, healthcare, and personal sacrifice.

Ethical Analysis

Kantian Ethics Overview

Kantian ethics, firmly rooted in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, posits that moral actions are those arising from a profound sense of duty and are meticulously guided by universal principles. Kant, a prominent philosopher of the 18th century, asserts that individuals possess intrinsic worth and should always be treated as ends in themselves, rather than being reduced to mere means to achieve an end. At the core of Kantian ethics resides the concept of the categorical imperative, a fundamental principle stating that one should act solely according to principles that could be seamlessly adopted as universal laws. In simpler terms, individuals must conduct themselves in a manner they would want everyone else to emulate when confronted with analogous circumstances (Kant, 2017).

Application of Kantian Ethics to “John Q”

In “John Q,” the ethical quagmire unfolds as a result of John Q. Archibald’s unwavering sense of duty as a father, determined to save his son’s life at any and all costs. John Q. firmly believes that it is his moral obligation to go to great lengths to secure a heart transplant for his son, Michael. From a Kantian perspective, John Q.’s actions can be interpreted as being driven by an exceptionally strong sense of duty, one that is inherently grounded in the conviction that moral actions should be unequivocally guided by a sense of duty (Cassavetes, 2022).

However, Kantian ethics also underscores the paramount importance of universalizability. It compels us to scrutinize whether John Q.’s actions, including the drastic measure of taking hostages, can be considered as principles that should be universally adopted. Kantian ethics would likely censure the use of force and the endangerment of innocent lives as means to an end, even when motivated by the noblest sense of duty. Consequently, an ethical conflict emerges between John Q.’s duty as a father and the universal principles enshrined in ethical conduct.

Moral Values in Conflict

Within the context of “John Q,” we bear witness to a profound conflict between several fundamental moral values. On one hand, the film highlights the moral value of parental love, underscoring a father’s unwavering duty to safeguard his child’s life at any cost. This parental love, characterized by John Q. Archibald’s desperate actions, represents a deeply ingrained moral responsibility that transcends personal well-being. It reflects the innate instinct to protect and nurture one’s offspring, an ethical foundation built on familial bonds.

Conversely, the film also portrays moral values such as the sanctity of life, principles of justice, and the unwavering prohibition of harming innocent individuals. These values serve as pillars of societal ethics, emphasizing the intrinsic worth of every human life and the imperative of equitable treatment and fairness. The sanctity of life asserts that all lives are inherently valuable, irrespective of circumstances, and justice underscores the importance of equal access to opportunities and resources within society. Simultaneously, the principle against harming the innocent underscores the moral responsibility to safeguard the well-being of those not involved in any wrongdoing.

Kantian ethics, as applied to this conflict, accentuates the need for individuals to reconcile these seemingly divergent moral values within their actions. Kantian ethics confronts the complexity of such dilemmas by demanding that individuals harmonize their duties with principles that can be universally applied. This moral framework prompts individuals to scrutinize their choices, ensuring they align with principles that could be embraced as ethical standards for everyone in similar situations.

Moral Guidance from Kantian Ethics

In the context of “John Q,” Kantian ethics offers invaluable moral guidance to the characters grappled with the ethical predicament at hand. For John Q. Archibald, Kantian ethics would underscore the importance of moral duty as a guiding force in his actions. His fervent devotion to securing a heart transplant for his son can be viewed as a manifestation of this moral duty, a duty that Kantian ethics acknowledges as praiseworthy when motivated by a sense of duty and goodwill.

However, Kantian ethics would also challenge John Q. to explore alternative, non-coercive means to secure the transplant, aligning with the principle of treating others as ends in themselves. It would encourage him to search for solutions that honor the inherent worth and autonomy of all individuals involved, including those unwittingly drawn into the hostage situation. By adhering to these principles, John Q. would strive to uphold the moral duty while respecting the universalizability criteria of Kantian ethics.

Likewise, healthcare providers in the film would find moral guidance in Kantian ethics. This moral framework would urge them to prioritize the principle of justice, ensuring equal access to life-saving treatments for all patients, regardless of their financial circumstances. It would serve as a reminder that healthcare professionals must navigate ethically challenging situations with a steadfast commitment to fairness and equity, refraining from actions that compromise the well-being and autonomy of their patients.

In essence, Kantian ethics serves as a beacon of moral insight in “John Q,” compelling characters to navigate their moral obligations and ethical dilemmas while upholding universal principles that transcend personal interests and circumstances. This ethical framework offers a profound perspective on the intricate interplay of duty, moral values, and universal principles within the complex narrative of the film.


In this essay, we applied Kantian ethics to analyze the ethical dimensions of the film “John Q.” We found that while John Q.’s actions could be seen as driven by a strong sense of duty, they conflict with the universalizability principle of Kantian ethics. This conflict underscores the complexity of ethical dilemmas and the challenges of reconciling duty with universal principles.

Personally, this analysis has reinforced the importance of ethical considerations in decision-making. It reminds us that even in dire circumstances, ethical principles must guide our actions, and we should seek solutions that are consistent with universal moral standards.

Professionally, the lessons from Kantian ethics can be applied to various fields, including healthcare, where the ethical treatment of patients and allocation of resources must be guided by principles that respect the inherent worth of every individual. By adopting a Kantian perspective, professionals can strive to make decisions that are both morally sound and justifiable on universal grounds.


In conclusion, our analysis of the film “John Q” through the lens of Kantian ethics has illuminated the complex ethical dimensions within the narrative. We have witnessed the clash between John Q. Archibald’s profound sense of duty as a father and the universal principles of moral behavior, emphasizing the importance of not harming innocent individuals. The film’s exploration of these ethical dilemmas serves as a thought-provoking reminder of the challenges inherent in reconciling personal duty with universal moral standards. Moreover, the lessons drawn from Kantian ethics can extend beyond the screen, prompting us to consider the importance of ethical principles in both our personal lives and professional endeavors. As we navigate our own ethical landscapes, we can draw inspiration from this analysis to make decisions that uphold the inherent worth of every individual and align with universal moral values.


Cassavetes, N. (Director). (2022). John Q [Motion picture]. New Line Cinema.

Kant, I. (2017). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge University Press.

FAQs on Ethical Analysis of the Film “John Q”

Q1: What is the film “John Q” about, and why is it relevant for ethical analysis?

A1: “John Q” is a 2002 film directed by Nick Cassavetes, which centers around the ethical dilemma faced by a father, John Q. Archibald, who takes extreme measures to secure a life-saving heart transplant for his son. This film is relevant for ethical analysis because it raises important questions about justice, healthcare, and personal sacrifice.

Q2: What is Kantian ethics, and why was it chosen as the ethical lens for analyzing the film?

A2: Kantian ethics is a moral theory developed by Immanuel Kant, emphasizing moral duty, universal principles, and the inherent worth of individuals. It was chosen for analyzing the film because it provides a framework to examine how individuals should act based on principles that could be adopted as universal laws.

Q3: How does Kantian ethics apply to the ethical dilemma presented in “John Q”?

A3: Kantian ethics helps us understand John Q. Archibald’s actions as driven by a sense of duty as a father. However, it also highlights the conflict between his duty and the universal principles that should guide ethical behavior, such as not harming innocent individuals.

Q4: What are the moral values in conflict within the film?

A4: In “John Q,” there is a conflict between the moral value of parental love and the duty to protect a child’s life and the moral values of the sanctity of life, justice, and the prohibition of harming innocent individuals.

Q5: What guidance does Kantian ethics offer to the characters in the film?

A5: Kantian ethics would guide characters in the film to prioritize moral duty and seek solutions that align with universal moral standards, such as finding non-coercive means to achieve their goals and upholding principles of justice.

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