Beneficence, Justice, and Health Care

Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 24 (1):27-49 (2014)
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Abstract

This paper argues that societal duties of health promotion are underwritten (at least in large part) by a principle of beneficence. Further, this principle generates duties of justice that correlate with rights, not merely “imperfect” duties of charity or generosity. To support this argument, I draw on a useful distinction from bioethics and on a somewhat neglected approach to social obligation from political philosophy. The distinction is that between general and specific beneficence; and the approach from political philosophy has at times been called equality of concern. After clarifying the distinction and setting out the basis of the equality of concern view, I argue that the result is a justice-based principle of “specific” beneficence that should be reflected in a society’s health policy. I then draw on this account to criticize, refine, and extend some prominent health care policy proposals from the bioethics literature.

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J. Paul Kelleher
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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