What The Harm Principle Says About Vaccination and Healthcare Rationing
Journal of Law and Biosciences
33 Pages Posted: 26 May 2022
Date Written: May 25, 2022
Clinical ethicists hold near consensus on the view that healthcare should be provided regardless of patients’ past behaviors. In classic cases, the consensus can be explained by two key rationales – a lack of acute scarcity and the intractability of the facts around those behaviors, which make discrimination on past behavior gratuitous and infeasible to do fairly. Healthcare providers have a duty to help those who can be helped. In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic suggests the possible recurrence of a very different situation, where a foreseeable acute shortage of healthcare resources means that some cannot be helped. And that shortage is exacerbated by the discrete decision of some to decline a free, safe, and highly effective vaccine, where the facts are clear. In such a future case, if healthcare must be denied to some patients, rationers who ignore vaccination status will become complicit in externalizing the consequences of refusing vaccination onto those who did not refuse. I argue that giving the unvaccinated person healthcare resources that would have otherwise gone to other patients is to wrongfully setback the interests, or harm, those patients. The article considers rejoinders around the voluntariness of the vaccination choice, which impinges both access and information, and how to scale this criterion proportionally with other rationing criteria that serve utility. Ultimately, the article speculates on why there will be some cognitive dissonance under this approach, while upholding a more general solidarity with and concern for all those seeking healthcare.
Funding Information: None to declare.
Conflict of Interests: None to declare.
Keywords: bioethics, health law, health policy
JEL Classification: I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation