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The right to treatment for self-inflicted conditions


The increasing awareness of personal health responsibility had led to the claim that patients with ‘self-inflicted’ conditions have less of a right to treatment at the public's expense than patients whose conditions arose from ‘uncontrollable’ causes. This paper suggests that regardless of any social decision as to the limits and scope of individual responsibility for health, the moral framework for discussing this issue is equality. In order to reach a consensus, discourse should be according to the common basis of all theories of justice, Aristotle's formal principle of justice: ‘equals must be treated equally and unequals must be treated unequally, in proportion to the relevant inequality’. This paper deals with the question of whether and under what circumstances risk-taking behaviour could be regarded as a ‘relevant inequality’ with respect to the right to health care. Following a discussion of the relevant inequalities in health care, the conclusion is reached that the fact that the condition was avoidably caused by the patient and is therefore his or her fault can not be regarded necessarily as a relevant inequality. Therefore, the issue is one of societal support for health care; after defining relevant inequalities in this respect, the paper attempts to apply them to self-inflicted conditions. This analysis reveals that, in theory, it may be just to restrict societal support in such cases. However, the application of this conclusion requires proof of many factual claims—for which there is often very limited evidence.

  • Applied and professional ethics
  • ethics
  • health care for specific diseases/groups
  • justice
  • right to health care
  • self-inflicted conditions

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