On the Human Right to Health: Statistical Lives, Contingent Persons, and Other Difficult Questions image

Cambridge University Press, May 18, 2018
I. Glenn Cohen (Faculty Director)


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From the article:

In ethics and political philosophy, it is not uncommon to distinguish the question of who is a moral agent (one who bears moral responsibility) from the question of who is a moral patient (one to whom moral obligations are owed). The two need not go together: one could be a moral patient but not have moral agency – infant children are a plausible example.

In this draft chapter, I examine the allied notion of a human rights patient for the human right to health.

I consider two particular questions. First, to what extent should a human right to health focus on identified lives, those whom we have identified as currently in need and who make claims on us, as opposed to statistical lives – the faceless masses who may also need our help just as much? This question sadly comes up all the time for ministries of health – whether to fund an expensive treatment for a sympathetic child who has come forward and demanded the treatment to save his or her life or to invest in programs that distribute less expensive, more quotidian benefits to hundreds of children in need.

In particular, I will dwell on how countries like Colombia that have made a right to health justiciable may have tilted spending towards identified lives in a way that is potentially troubling.

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human rights i. glenn cohen