Global Bioethics and Political Theory

In Joseph Millum & Ezekiel J. Emanuel (eds.), Global Justice and bioethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 17-42 (2012)
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Most bioethicists who address questions to which global justice matters have not considered the significance of the disputes over the correct theory of global justice. Consequently, the significance of the differences between theories of global justice for bioethics has been obscured. In this paper, I consider when and how these differences are important. I argue that certain bioethical problems can be resolved without addressing disagreements about global justice. People with very different views about global justice can converge on the existence of a duty to aid the very badly off — those in absolute poverty — wherever they may be. However, despite agreement on extreme cases, there should be disagreement over the extent of international obligations to those who are only relatively poor. Consequently, different theories of justice will diverge in their implications for a number of important problems in contemporary bioethics. I close by sketching in more detail two contemporary bioethical issues —concerning pharmaceutical patents and the health worker brain drain —and show how responses to them might be developed by cosmopolitan and statist liberals.

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Joseph Millum
University of St. Andrews


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