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© Cambridge University Press 2005 and 2009. What is utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is, on one level, a straightforward moral theory (Savulescu 2003). According to utilitarians, all that matters is well-being. The more well-being, the better. The right action is that action that results in the greatest sum total of well-being. Utilitarianism has several strengths. It does not invoke mysterious or vague concepts like rights, duties (e.g. to some deity), enlightenment (e.g. of the Truth), liberation (e.g. of the worker), which are difficult to define plausibly or apply consistently and appropriately in practice. It invokes the most basic of concepts: that our lives can become better or worse. Our lives become worse, for example, when we die prematurely of some illness. And people’s actions are wrong when they make our lives become worse.Utilitarianism protects the welfare of the individual. People should not be harmed in the name of some ideal or human construct. One needs a very good reason to harm people, according to utilitarianism. Those reasons would have to do with great benefits to other people. Application Lucassen writes that in clinical genetics ‘there can be a direct conflict between preserving the confidentiality of one patient and the right of other family members to know information about their genetic status and risk of disease.It is notoriously difficult to define a right and balance different rights and interests. What is the ‘right of a family member to know information about their genetic status’? Where do such rights come from?

Original publication





Book title

Case Analysis in Clinical Ethics

Publication Date



115 - 132