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Lifestyle, responsibility and justice
  1. E Feiring
  1. E Feiring, Postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, PO Box 1097 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway; eli.feiring{at}

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Unhealthy lifestyle contributes significantly to the burden of disease. Scarce medical resources that could alternatively be spent on interventions to prevent or cure sufferings for which no one is to blame, are spent on prevention or treatment of (the risk of) disease that could be avoided through individual lifestyle changes. This may encourage policy makers and health care professionals to opt for a criterion of individual responsibility for medical suffering when setting priorities. The following article asks whether responsibility-based reasoning should be accepted as relevant for fair and legitimate healthcare rationing. The luck-egalitarian argument that inequalities in health expectancies that derive from unchosen features of people’s circumstances are unjust and should be compensated, while inequalities that reflect personal choices of lifestyle may not, is discussed. It seems that while a backward-looking interpretation of individual responsibility cannot be relevant as a criterion of priority setting, a forward-looking conception of responsibility may be approved.

Within all modern societies healthcare authorities are facing difficult priority setting problems. Various criteria for rationing medical intervention have been proposed due to scarcity of resources. Until now, individual responsibility for medical suffering has been given little attention in the public or in academic debate. This is about to change. As Alexander Cappelen and Ole Norheim have pointed out in a recent article in this journal, unhealthy lifestyle contributes increasingly to the burden of disease. A better understanding of the responsibility argument is important for the assessment of policies aimed at meeting this challenge.1 In this article the following question is addressed: should responsibility-based arguments be accepted as relevant to meeting healthcare rationing fairly and legitimately? I will argue that while a backward-looking conception of individual responsibility should not be endorsed, a forward-looking notion of responsibility may be approved.


There are both empirical and theoretical reasons for …

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