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What Is (and Isn't) Healthism

54 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2015 Last revised: 19 Mar 2017

Jessica L. Roberts

University of Houston Law Center

Elizabeth Weeks Leonard

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: February 1, 2016


What does it mean to discriminate on the basis of health status? Health is, of course, relevant in a number of ways. It can speak to the length of our lives, our ability to perform mentally and physically, our need for health care, and our risk of injury and incapacity. But the mere relevance of a particular attribute does mean that considering it should be legally permissible. Moreover, the potential harms that may result from health-status discrimination raise important moral questions. This Essay explores when differentiating on the basis of health is socially acceptable and, by contrast, when it is normatively problematic. Given that variations in health may correlate strongly with the kinds of cost- and performance-related factors identified above, the authors provide a theoretical framework for assessing when considering health-related status is justifiable — perhaps even desirable — and when it is discriminatory.

Keywords: Antidiscrimination, health law, health care, health reform, civil rights, equal protection

JEL Classification: D63, I11, I12, I18, I30, J20, J31, J38, J7, J71, J78, K32, K42, M51, M54

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Jessica L. and Leonard, Elizabeth Weeks, What Is (and Isn't) Healthism (February 1, 2016). Georgia Law Review, Vol. 50, 2016; University of Georgia School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-39. Available at SSRN: or

Jessica L. Roberts

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

Houston, TX 77204
United States

Elizabeth Weeks Leonard (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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