Distributive justice and the harm to medical professionals fighting epidemics

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Abstract

The exposure of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to risks in the context of epidemics is significant. While traditional medical ethics offers the thought that these dangers may limit the extent to which a duty to care is applicable in such situations, it has less to say about what we might owe to medical professionals who are disadvantaged in these contexts. Luck egalitarianism, a responsibility-sensitive theory of distributive justice, appears to fare particularly badly in that regard. If we want to maintain that medical professionals are responsible for their decisions to help, cure and care for the vulnerable, luck egalitarianism seems to imply that their claim of justice to medical attention in case of infection is weak or non-existent. The article demonstrates how a recent interpretation of luck egalitarianism offers a solution to this problem. Redefining luck egalitarianism as concerned with responsibility for creating disadvantages, rather than for incurring disadvantage as such, makes it possible to maintain that medical professionals are responsible for their choices and that those infected because of their choice to help fight epidemics have a full claim of justice to medical attention.

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