VULNERABILITY, HEALTH AGENCY AND CAPABILITY TO HEALTH

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Abstract

One of the defining features of the capability approach (CA) to health, as developed in Venkatapuram's book Health Justice, is its aim to enable individual health agency. Furthermore, the CA to health hopes to provide a strong guideline for assessing the health-enabling content of social and political conditions. In this article, I employ the recent literature on the liberal concept of vulnerability to assess the CA. I distinguish two kinds of vulnerability. Considering circumstantial vulnerability, I argue that liberal accounts of vulnerability concerned with individual autonomy, align with the CA to health. Individuals should, as far as possible, be able to make health-enabling decisions about their lives, and their capability to do so should certainly not be hindered by public policy. The CA to health and a vulnerability-based analysis then work alongside to define moral responsibilities and designate those who hold them. Both approaches demand social policy to address circumstances that hinder individuals from taking health-enabling decisions. A background condition of vulnerability, on the other hand, even though it hampers the capability for health, does not warrant the strong moral claim proposed by the CA to health to define health as a meta-capability that should guide social policy. Nothing in our designing social policy could change the challenge to health agency when we deal with background conditions of vulnerability.

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