People have to make decisions every day in a variety of situations. Ethical theories exist to guide us through the depths of morality when the question of right or wrong presents itself. When the actions of a human and a professional might impact a person’s health, well-being, or even life, the consequential approach might prove useful in achieving the best possible outcome.
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Consequentialism appeared in the 18th century with the works of Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, who proposed the theory of utilitarianism with a focus on legal punishment and the need for its reform (Seidel, 2018). In the most general sense, consequentialism is a theory of acting right. According to consequentialism, the rightness of an action is determined by its consequences (Savulescu &Wilkinson, 2019). Intention and the motives behind the action are not important, as the primary goal of a consequentialist is to maximize good consequences. The theory compares and evaluates different decisions to determine which of the possible outcomes is more likely to create the greatest benefit for the most significant number of people considered (Weir, 2016).
In the given scenario, we observe the case of Matt, a healthcare surveyor, who is presented with the moral dilemma of choice between his duty and his ethical principles. He feels an obligation to help the dental clinic with a piece of advice and support the concerned personnel, even though it might cost him his job as a surveyor. The case illustrates how the consequentialist approach, utilitarian, to be precise, might be applied in the situation where the lives and health of people are at stake.
Let us look at the cons of Matt’s approach first. Matt, as a professional healthcare surveyor, was responsible for an adequate and impartial review of the children’s dental clinic. By interacting with the clinic’s staff on a more personal level and sharing the positive story of the veteran’s hospital with them, he probably broke the rules of professional conduct. Supporting the consequentialist approach, he even sacrificed his lunchtime trying to do his best to save the dental clinic. Also, without seeing the full picture of the situation, he might have given the clinic false hope and expectations of the opportunities for raising money. The pro, as I see it, is that Matt’s contribution to brainstorming inspired Dr. Seiden to take action and helped him understand a bigger scale of the problem. The doctor realized that fund-raising events like the car wash might have stopped many other clinics from being closed due to the lack of funding, which in turn would have provided underserved patients with necessary healthcare.
Having examined the pros and cons of Matt’s actions, I believe that his reprimand was definitely worth the risk in this particular case. Of course, as a professional, Matt should have been cautious of the possible consequences of his intervention into affairs of the clinic. His consequentialist moral thinking, however, did not let him stand on the sidelines despite the potential risk of disciplinary action from his employer.
All in all, I think it is important to pay attention to the circumstances because the standard procedures and professional conduct are not always the best ways to follow. Situations, where human health and well-being depend on one’s decisions, might call for a consequential approach. Whereas Matt’s actions were perceived as unreasonable and wrong by his colleagues, his approach in the given situation served for the greater good and possibly saved the lives of many.
- Savulescu, J., & Wilkinson, D. (2019). Consequentialism and the Law in Medicine. In A. M. Phillips, T. C. Campos, & J. Herring (Eds.), Philosophical foundations of medical law. Web.
- Seidel, C. (Ed.). (2018). Consequentialism: New directions, new problems. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
- Weir, M. (2016). Law and ethics in complementary medicine: A handbook for practitioners in Australia and New Zealand. Crow’s Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin.