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Personal responsibility for health: conceptual clarity, and fairness in policy and practice
  1. Harald Schmidt
  1. Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
  1. Correspondence to Assistant Professor Harald Schmidt, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; schmidth{at}

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Rebecca Brown and Julian Savulescu1 focus on individuals’ responsibility regarding health-related behaviours. They rightly argue that paying attention to diachronic and dyadic aspects of responsibility can further illuminate the highly multifaceted concept of personal responsibility for health. Their point of departure is a pragmatic one. They note that personal responsibility ‘is highly intuitive, [that] responsibility practices are a commonplace feature of almost all areas of human life and interpersonal relationship [and that] the pervasiveness of this concept [suggest] the improbability of banishing it entirely’. Indeed, despite—or perhaps even quite independent of—decades of mostly sceptical conceptual analysis of the concept of personal responsibility by philosophers and others, it endures, if not flourishes. These separate dynamics raise the question of how, in years ahead, the debate on responsibility can be furthered most effectively, and how nuanced conceptual distinctions can effectively inform policy and practice.

The authors’ table 1 matrix illustrates how different levels of control and knowledge people had at different timepoints might be grouped in categories of low, moderate or high demandingness: for policy makers sympathetic to the authors’ proposal that high levels of demandingness should undermine responsibility attributions, or for advocacy groups seeking to lobby on their behalf, several questions likely arise, including: How should …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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