Application of Ethical Theories in Healthcare Settings

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・MLA ・3 Sources

Health care practitioners have to make decisions every day in their jobs. Sometimes the choices are so important that they may determine whether someone lives or dies. Therefore, they depend on ethical theories that are suitable for their environment to make decisions. Thus, healthcare ethics encompass a set of moral guidelines that guide medical professionals when making their decisions. At the center for healthcare, ethics is the sense of what is right or wrong and the beliefs concerning the rights and duties that the professionals possess and their duties to other people. Therefore, careful thinking about the ethical elements of decisions in the healthcare system helps practitioners make choices that are not only good but also just and fair. The utilitarian perspective and the deontological perspective are two examples of ethical points of view that can be applied in a healthcare setting when making decisions. However, before choosing either of the theories, one has to weigh between the two to understand the most suitable one not only for the healthcare settings but for the particular decisions to be made.

The utilitarian theory is based on the ability of the actors to foretell the consequences of their action. According to Utilitarian theorists, the most ethical actions or behaviors are those that not only result in the most significant happiness, but also for the biggest number of people (Williams). Therefore, for one to act, they must ensure that their action will yield the greatest happiness for the most people. Thus, the theory involves the use of a predicted solution and then implement what is called a point system to establish the most beneficial choice to most of the people that will be impacted by the action or determination. The actors have to use a logical and rational argument for all situations in each case to make good decisions s all actions lead to different results in various environments. The approaches of utilitarianism exist in two forms. First, one can act utilitarian or rule utilitarianism (Scanlon 110). Act utilitarian is concerned with making choices and acting in ways that are pleasurable to many people despite the feelings of the actor or the legal limitations that may exist. Therefore, the most critical question in act-utilitarianism is the amount of pleasure regardless of other factors like the law (Williams). In the case of rule utilitarian, one has to consider the limitations and provisions of the law when acting. The actions that result from rule utilitarian are primarily concerned with justness and fairness are provided by the law. Also, when applying rule utilitarian, actions considered should not only produce the greatest pleasure to the most people but also be legal. Hence, rule utilitarian seeks to benefit most parties but only through the fairest of means possible in the situation.

The utilitarian theory was founded by Jeremy Bentham, a 19th English economist as well as a philosopher. The theory was later expounded by John Stuart Mill (Altun and Nermin 462). The approach solemnly uses a consequentialist perspective to make moral judgments. Therefore, the net utility of an act is used to tell whether the action is moral or not. The results must be pleasurable to the majority of the stakeholders. According to the theorists, happiness and pleasure are very important in decisions making. Pain as well as suffering, on the other hand, are what people seek to avoid when deciding and acting. Therefore, the emphasis on pleasure is the most important aspect of moral decision-making processes. Thus, ultimate pleasure is the only significant factor that should be important when making decisions. The original utilitarian theory that was brought forth by Jeremy Bentham was purely quantitative (Williams). However, John Stuart a follower of Bentham added the aspect of the quality of the pleasure. Therefore, not only should the pleasure be felt by the most people, but it must also be of the highest value possible.

On the other hand, deontological ethics is an ethical point of view that judges what is right and wrong is based on whether or not the actions adhere to the set of rules or code of ethics that guides the actor’s actions. Hence, deontological ethics emphasizes the point that actors should act in adherence to their obligations. Therefore, when solving ethical dilemmas, one should consider what their job is before acting. Therefore, deontology does not define the consequences of actions (Altun and Nermin 465). Instead, it asks people, to consider what they are supposed to do according to the rules that guide their jobs and act accordingly. The deontological perspective is applicable in many careers that have a code of conduct. The code of conduct guides the actions of the professionals. An example of a theory that applies the deontological perspective is the Kantian theory that was proposed by Emmanuel Kant (Altun and Nermin 464). According to Kant, people act on maxim when they act. Also, the decisions of people are dependent on the will of the actors. According to the philosopher, people should only act on the maxims that can be a universal law. Also, Kant believed that the good thing about of goodwill is regardless of the achievements of the cations that result. Also, goodwill does not have to be qualified as it is good by nature. Therefore, even if a person fails to achieve positive results, if their action was based on goodwill, then they acted morally.

The deontological perspective of Kant suggests that people have to be driven by duty to act according to goodwill. According to the philosopher, acting according to one’s duty because self-interest motivates one is not goodwill (Altun and Nermin 462). For example, when a shopkeeper puts fixed prices for the goods that they sell and gives change fairly without taking advantage of the customers because they want, they are acting morally. However, it does not show that they have goodwill in them because duty does not motivate their performance of their duty. Instead, it is driven by self-interest. However, when one does the right thing because it is their duty regardless of what they want or desire, it is good will. For instance, waking up from sleep to attend to an emergency situation despite the fact that one wants to sleep rather than wake up is good will because by doing so, one is responding to their duty rather than their desires.

Kant then asks what goodwill is. According to the theorist, goodwill should not be judged based on the results of the action because goodwill should just be good in its nature (Altun and Nermin 465). Therefore, the philosopher introduces the concept of the categorical imperative. According to Kant, the categorical imperative is the idea that one should only act in ways that would be ethical even if everyone acted in the way. Therefore, one should only make decisions that they would will everyone else to act. For instance, when making promises, people have to ensure that they will keep the promises because pledges by nature are supposed to be kept (Altun and Nermin 465). Otherwise, it would not be good if everyone started breaking promises. Also, people must involve reason when making their decisions for them to be ethical. Therefore, rationality is fundamental in making choices concerning what is right or wrong.

In biological research, for instance, one has to be ethical in making their decisions to ensure that the results of their studies are not just valid, but also applicable. It is important to ensure that the researcher remains objective. Therefore, one should avoid situations that make them subjective when making their decisions. Is it also important to prevent bias while conducting research. Thus, there is a code of ethics that all biological researchers should follow when conducting research especially involving human subjects. Also, when performing duties in healthcare such as testing the HIV status of patients, the physicians must ensure that they keep the information of the clients confidential. However, it is also essential to make sure that they keep the community healthy while they conduct their practice. An example of a situation is one involving counselor who tests a boyfriend of their sister positive for HIV. In the case, they find themselves torn between telling their sister that the man is HIV positive or not telling their sister and protecting their client’s confidentiality instead.

Utilitarian professionals and deontological ones will respond to the dilemma in different ways. Utilitarian counselors will look at the consequences of telling the sister about the HIV status of the patient and compare it with the results of not telling the sister. If telling the sister would have more positive consequences, the counselor will tell the sister. Telling the sister will result in pleasing himself and the sister. Therefore, if the situation involving three people, then it would be moral for the counselor to tell the sister by applying act-utilitarianism. However, in rule-utilitarianism, the counselor would have to consider the code of ethics and decide based on the laws.

The deontological perspective would involve the counselor making choices based on the code of ethics that direct the actions of counselors. Therefore, if the code of ethics allows, then the counselor will tell the sister about the HIV status of the boyfriend. However, confidentiality is an important aspect of the profession of counseling and other health-related professions. The APA code of ethics direct that counselors should not share the information of their patients without their permission. Therefore, by the code of ethics, it is important that the counselor does not tell the sister of the HIV status of the boyfriend. Not telling is ethical according to the deontology of Kant because it is performing one’s moral duty regardless of the fact that one desires otherwise.

The application of deontology rather than the utilitarian theories of ethics will be important because sharing the information of patients is against the code of ethics that guide medical practitioners. Also, it will be against the rights of the patient to share their data even if sharing would benefit the counselor or someone else. It will also be important to understand that the Kantian perspective of ethics direct that people should only do things that they would like if everyone did the same. Therefore, it will be important to consider the effects of everyone revealing the secrets of their patients to their relatives. It would be disastrous. Accordingly, the counselor should not tell the sister of the status of the boyfriend.

Objectors of the decision would suggest that not telling the sister would not be performing the duty of protecting the society and keeping it healthy as healthcare professionals should do. However, the rebuttal is that even if the counselor was to apply utilitarianism, the effects of telling the sister about the status of the lover should result in several possible negative impacts. They include job loss, lawsuits, and depression on the part of the client. Therefore, telling the sister of the status of the man would be counterproductive if one sought the most pleasurable consequences.

In conclusion, utilitarianism and deontology are two ethical perspectives that are commonly applied to decision making. While utilitarianism based on the pleasure that is achieved by the actions, deontology is nonconsequential and bases on the goodwill of the actions. The deontological perspective also requires that people act based on their obligations rather than the results of their actions. In the case of making medical decisions, it is important to use the deontological perspective because they require people to perform their duties rather than just judge their actions based on their results. Deontology asks people to act rationally without self-interest at heart. Therefore, healthcare professionals like counselors should apply deontology rather than utilitarianism to stay in line with their work.

Work Cited

Altun, Insaf, and Nermin Ersoy. ""Undertaking the role of patient advocate: a longitudinal study of nursing students."" Nursing Ethics 10.5 (2003): 462-471.

Scanlon, Thomas M. ""Contractualism, and utilitarianism."" Utilitarianism and beyond 103 (1982): 110.

Williams, Bernard. ""A critique of utilitarianism."" Cambridge/UK (1973).

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