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Just health responsibility


Although the responsibility for health debate has intensified in several ways between Norman Daniels’ 1985 Just healthcare and Just health: meeting health needs fairly of 2008, comparatively little space is dedicated to the issue in Just health, and Daniels notes repeatedly that his account “says nothing about personal responsibility for health”.

Daniels considers health responsibility mainly in a particular luck-egalitarian version which he rejects because of its potentially unfeasible, penalising and inhumane character. But I show that he nonetheless acknowledges and endorses explicitly other dimensions of health responsibility.

I develop a wider, more nuanced and less punitive concept of health responsibility, which expands Daniels’ brief consideration and is compatible with the overall approach set out in Just health. In its application to preventative medicine and health promotion in particular, the concept is suited to support and complement the notion that “health is special”, which is central in Just health.

The concept of health responsibility as co-responsibility specifies the subjects and objects of health responsibilities. It permits the attribution of responsibility without blame and disconnects the question of assigning responsibility from decisions about entitlement to treatment or different status in prioritisation decisions. This approach secures conceptual plausibility and clarity of the concept of health responsibility, is of use in policy making, and can help reduce political tensions.

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