The Variable Value of Life and Fairness to the Already Ill

Paul T. Menzel

in Prevention vs. Treatment

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199837373
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919499 | DOI:
The Variable Value of Life and Fairness to the Already Ill

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When prevention and treatment equally save real lives and avoid real suffering, their results appear to have equivalent value. This creates a strong initial case for a policy of priority equivalence between them. After demonstrating that three arguments often made for treatment’s priority quickly dissolve in the face of this equivalent value, I pursue the intricate distinction between identifiable as compared to statistical lives, concluding that because it does not track well the distinction between prevention and treatment, it does not itself provide an argument for giving priority to treatment. Two arguments are more promising: (1) The very value of the lives and health at stake respectively in cases of prevention and treatment is frequently not equal, but variable in the direction of being lower for prevention. (2) In any context where we are about to abide by a new policy of moral equivalence, it is difficult to be fair to those in the transition generation who are already ill. Neither of these promising arguments, however, is compelling. The first is persuasive only within certain limited contexts and thus generates only a selective priority for treatment. The second loses its moral attraction once we recognize its long-term historical consequences.

Keywords: value of life; fairness; prevention; treatment; health care priorities; statistical lives; identifiable lives; risk

Chapter.  11375 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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