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Australas Psychiatry. 2007 Oct;15(5):402-10.

Overview of psychiatric ethics V: utilitarianism and the ethics of duty.

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1
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Sydney South West Area Health Service (Eastern Sector), NSW, Australia. mrobertson@med.usyd.edu.au

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

The aim of this paper is to describe the ethical theories of utilitarianism and the ethics of duty (Kant's ethics) and to evaluate their value as theoretical bases of psychiatric ethics.

CONCLUSIONS:

Utilitarianism is a well-established moral philosophy and has significant instrumental value in dealing with common ethical problems faced by psychiatrists. Despite its capacity to generate solutions to ethical problems, utilitarianism requires a process of what Rawls described as 'reflective equilibrium' to avoid morally repugnant choices, based on utility. The criticisms of utilitarianism, such as the problems of quantifying utility and the responsibility for consequences, are very relevant for psychiatry. Singer's model of utilitarian thinking is particularly problematic for our profession. Kant's ethics provides the pretext for duty bound codes of ethics for psychiatrists, but suffers from problems of flawed claims to the universalizability prescribed by Kant's 'categorical imperative'. Kant's valorization of reason as the core of the autonomy of persons is a valuable insight in understanding psychiatrists' ethical obligations to their patients.

PMID:
17828638
DOI:
10.1080/10398560701439640
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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