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For goodness' sake
  1. Giles N Cattermole
  1. Correspondence to Dr G N Cattermole, Accident and Emergency Medicine Academic Unit, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong; gncattermole{at}

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I was disturbed to read the article by Body and Foex1 advocating the embrace of utilitarian values in medicine. I hope it was merely a misuse of words. All penguins are birds, but not all birds are penguins. Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, but not all ethical thinking that considers the consequences of one's actions is utilitarian. The authors of the article correctly make a clear case for efficiency and risk-benefit “consequential” thinking in medicine, and in particular in decision analysis. However, this is not utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory in which the “right” action is that which maximises the aggregate “good” outcome across a population. The “good” can variously …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.