Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism are two different approaches to utilitarianism.

Routine activities necessitate each person making significant decisions that affect them and others. A case study involving a doctor and a patient is discussed in this article. The patient is not interested in learning whether she has a terminal illness. Her relatives, on the other hand, would like to hear from the doctor what kind of illness their relative is suffering from. This paper will use two utilitarian perspectives, act and rule utilitarianism, to determine whether and how the doctor can disclose this knowledge to the two parties. According to act utilitarianism, a morally justifiable decision is one that achieves the greatest benefit for the greatest number of citizens. Under rule utilitarianism, an action is morally correct if it is a result of following the correct rules of conduct (Barrow 109). In this essay, the argument is that Dr. Debra should strictly follow rule utilitarianism by abiding to commitment she made when reciting the Hippocratic Oath.

Act and Rule Utilitarianism

Rule utilitarianism helps an individual in applying well-thought principles when making important decisions. In this case, it is the responsibility of the doctor to manage Pat’s anxiousness and expectations. The Hippocratic oath does not directly allow her to cheat her patients (Swaminath 84). Therefore, it is her responsibility to talk to Pat to make her change her perspective on knowing the condition that she is suffering from. The doctor’s training gives her the ability to communicate the findings of the test with empathy and not cause shock or stress to her client. Rule utilitarianism makes it easy for an individual to arrive at a decision because it requires them to adhere to a given rule of conduct which has been applied in similar circumstances. The Hippocratic Oath forms the basis of most of the decisions made by medics within the profession. Lying to the patient may strain the relations between Dr. Debra and Pat.

The Hippocratic Oath talks about remembering “do no harm. (Swaminath 83)” The details of the test that was carried out on Pat are likely to cause her stress eventually leading to worsening of her condition or other emotional and mental health issues. However, this does not justify lying. Abiding by the Hippocratic Oath means that Dr. Debra should reduce the negative effect of the findings on Pat. This does not necessarily imply that she should lie to her. One of the best options to this effect would be telling her the less severe truth and choosing to keep the serious information away from her completely or revealing it in bits that she can manage emotionally and resist stress. Therefore, Dr. Debra should use her experience to slowly reveal the details to her patient while minimizing the harm.

Pat has autonomy over the information about her condition. It is upon the doctor to prevail upon her to reveal the details of her condition to her family and not do it without her knowledge. Privacy is an issue that is well covered in the Hippocratic Oath. It is the responsibility of the medic to ensure that they demonstrate utmost respect for the patient by keeping their information confidential. This rule was established and included in the Hippocratic Oath to set uniform standards in managing confidential information about a patient. Therefore, applying the rules set by the Hippocratic Oath will require that the doctor respects the right of the patient to privacy (Swaminath 83).

Act utilitarianism may be used to justify Dr. Debra’s choice to lie to Pat in order to minimize the emotional damage that the truth is likely to do on her. In the short-term, lying to the patient is the best option. However, this will strain the relationship between the patient and the doctor once the former finds out.

Act utilitarianism can effectively be utilized to justify whey the doctor should not reveal the details of Pat’s test to her family without her knowledge. These details are likely to cause emotional harm to the family members. They are likely to start treating Pat in a different way and this may also affect her emotionally. Therefore, both act and rule utilitarianism produce the same answer to the second question.

Act utilitarianism only justifies my opinion in the second question. It can be used to defend the doctor’s decision not to inform Pat’s family about her condition without her knowledge.


The Hippocratic Oath forms the rules used by doctors in making decisions in regard to doing harm and protecting the right of their patients to privacy. Revealing the test results to Pat is likely to harm her since she has a terminal disease. Lying to her is also likely to strain the relationship between the doctor and her patient and the latter may also undermine treatment since she will think that her situation is not serious. Therefore, the doctor should tell her the results in a manner that does not harm her. In applying rule utilitarianism, the doctor should not reveal the test results to Debra’s family without her knowledge. Act utilitarianism also justifies an action by the doctor to not reveal the results without the patient’s knowledge. However, it cannot effectively justify the decision to not lie to the patient.

Works Cited

Barrow, Robin. Utilitarianism: A contemporary statement. Routledge, 2015.

Swaminath, G. “The Doctor’s Dilemma: Truth Telling.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 50.2 (2008): 83–84. PMC. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.

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