Utilitarian Theories Reconsidered: Common Misconceptions, More Recent Developments, and Health Policy Implications

Health Care Analysis 11 (3):229-244 (2003)
Abstract
Despite the prevalence of the terms utilitarianism and utilitarian in the health care and health policy literature, anecdotal evidence suggests that authors are often not fully aware of the diversity of utilitarian theories, their principles, and implications. Further, it seems that authors often categorically reject utilitarianism under the assumption that it violates individual rights. The tendency of act utilitarianism to neglect individual rights is attenuated, however, by the diminishing marginal utility of wealth and the disutility of a protest by those who are disadvantaged. In practice, act utilitarians tend to introduce moral rules and preserve traditional rules. At the same time, the tenability of rule utilitarianism is limited because it ultimately collapses into act utilitarianism or a deontological theory. Negative utilitarianism is a viable utilitarian variant only if we accept complete aversion to suffering, ie, if we disregard any forgone opportunities to increase pleasure. Finally, the adoption of preference utilitarianism requires us to accept the subjectivity of individual claims which may be perceived as unfair
Keywords act utilitarianism  deontological theory  negative utilitarianism  preference utilitarianism  resource allocation in health care  rule utilitarianism
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DOI 10.1023/B:HCAN.0000005495.81342.30
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