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Going above and beneath the call of duty: the luck egalitarian claims of healthcare heroes, and the accomodation of professionally-motivated treatment refusal
  1. Thomas Douglas, Associate Editor
  1. Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Douglas; thomas.douglas{at}

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Healthcare heroes and luck egalitarian claims to medical treatment

In 2014, American doctor Ian Crozier chose to travel to Sierra Leone to help fight the West African Ebola epidemic. He contracted Ebola himself and was evacuated to the US, where he received hospital treatment for 40 days.

Crozier knowingly chose to expose himself to a risk of contracting Ebola, and thus appears to be at least somewhat morally responsible for his infection. Did this responsibility weaken his justice-based claim to publicly funded treatment? On one influential view—luck egalitarianism—the answer is ‘yes’. Or so Albertsen and Thaysen suggest in this issue.1

According to luck egalitarianism, justice requires the elimination of inequalities between people, but only when the relative harm borne by those on the wrong end of the inequality is a matter of luck. Albertsen and Thaysen understand luck egalitarianism to entail that, when one is responsible for befalling a harm, one has no claim in justice to the mitigation of that harm. On this view, they suggest, Crozier’s claim to treatment would be similar to that of a reckless Alpine skier who is injured in a skiing accident, and would be weaker than that of those with a normal claim to treatment—those who bear no responsibility for their illness. Both of these implications seem implausible, however. Intuitively, Crozier’s claim to treatment is no weaker than those with normal claims, and certainly stronger than the reckless skier’s.

Can luck egalitarianism be ‘adjusted or interpreted’ so as to avoid these implausible implications? The authors suggest that it can. Their innovation is to distinguish heroic doctors like Crozier from reckless skiers by invoking a distinction between being responsible for creating harm and for incurring harm. Their thought is that one creates harm when one brings harm on oneself without also preventing at least as much harm to others. Thus, the harm that …

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