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Legitimacy in bioethics: challenging the orthodoxy


Several prominent writers including Norman Daniels, James Sabin, Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson and Leonard Fleck advance a view of legitimacy according to which, roughly, policies are legitimate if and only if they result from democratic deliberation, which employs only public reasons that are publicised to stakeholders. Yet, the process described by this view contrasts with the actual processes involved in creating the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and in attempting to pass the Health Securities Act (HSA). Since the ACA seems to be legitimate, as the HSA would have been had it passed, they seem to be counterexamples to this view. In this essay, I clarify the concept of legitimacy as employed in bioethics discourse. Finally, I use that clarification to develop these examples into a criticism of the orthodox view–that it implies that legitimacy requires counterintuitively large sacrifices of justice in cases where important advancement of healthcare rights depends on violations of publicity. I then reply to three responses to this challenge: (1) that some revision to the orthodox view salvages its core commitments, (2) that its views of publicity and substantive considerations do not have the implications that I claim and (3) that arguments for it are strong enough to support even counterintuitive results. My arguments suggest a greater role for substantive considerations than the orthodox view allows.

  • Political Philosophy
  • Resource Allocation
  • Distributive Justice
  • Public Health Ethics
  • Philosophical Ethics

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