There are many perspectives on ethics that offer contrasting guidelines for carrying out justice and other ethical judgements but two of the most conflicting theories are sourced from utilitarianism and the Kantian approach. Utilitarian ethics refers to the end result as the ultimate indicator of the ethical utility of any choice (Paola et al. 58). Like many philosophical concepts utilitarianism influences can be traced back to ancient Greece and possibly further though the most relevant developments occurred between the late 18th and 19th centuries with key contributions from Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill respectively. Utilitarian ethics are largely based on natural perspectives favoring immediately foreseeable outcomes over the analysis of potentially latent variables and can thus be useful in clinical situations where quick decisions are necessary to save lives, such as the choice to defibrillate. In this case there would be no time to investigate unknown conditions that may be contraindicated by the treatment.
Immanuel Kant’s ethical views emerged from the influences of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Academics and philosophers of the time were gradually freed from the persecution of their views allowing for a broadening of inquiry and understanding. Kantian ethics are based on the idea that humans are universally bound to adhere to categorical imperatives that identify absolute rights and wrongs like telling the truth and lying. Kant’s principles differ most sharply from utilitarianism in flexibility. Utilitarian ethics are highly situational and can result in a variety of choices based on perceived outcomes while Kantian ethics operate under definite principles that supersede the specifics of the situation. This approach to ethics is useful for guiding communication with patients in regular meetings (Barron and Bania 356) like during appointments so that the duty of a medical professional to provide honest information is upheld.
Barron, Bruce J., and John Banja. “Radiologic Reporting: The Ethical Obligation of the Interpreting Physician to Provide an Accurate Report.” American Journal of Roentgenology 201.2 (2013): 356-360.
Paola, Frederick Adolf, Robert Walker, and Lois LaCivita Nixon, eds. Medical Ethics and Humanities. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2010.