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Is Health (Really) Special? Health Policy between Rawlsian and Luck Egalitarian Justice

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In recent work, Norman Daniels extends the application of Rawls's principle of ‘fair equality of opportunity’ from health care to health proper. Crucial to that account is the view that health care, and now also health, is special. Daniels also claims that a rival theory of distributive justice, namely luck egalitarianism (or ‘equal opportunity for welfare’), cannot provide an adequate account of justice in health and health care. He argues that the application of that theory to health policy would result in an account that is, in a sense, too narrow, for it denies treatment to imprudent patients (e.g. lung cancer patients who smoked). In a different sense, Daniels argues, luck egalitarian health policy would be too wide: it arguably tells us to treat individuals for such brute-luck conditions as shyness, stupidity, ugliness, and having the ‘wrong’ skin colour. I seek to advance three claims in response to Daniels's revised theory, and in defence of a luck egalitarian view of health policy. First, I question Daniels's assertion regarding the specialness of health. While he is right to abandon his insistence on the specialness of health care, it is doubtful that health proper can be depicted as special. Second, I try and meet Daniels's objections to luck egalitarianism. Luck egalitarian health policy escapes being too narrow for it does not in fact require denying basic care to imprudent patients. As for it being allegedly too wide, I try to show that it is not, after all, counterintuitive to rid individuals of unfortunate and disadvantageous biological traits (say, a disadvantageous skin colour). And third, I question whether Daniels's own Rawlsian account is in fact wide enough. I argue that fair equality of opportunity fails to justify some standard medical procedures that many health systems do already practice.

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