Justice, stigma, and the new epidemiology of health disparities

Bioethics 23 (2):90-96 (2009)
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Abstract

Recent research in epidemiology has identified a number of factors beyond access to medical care that contribute to health disparities. Among the so-called socioeconomic determinants of health are income, education, and the distribution of social capital. One factor that has been overlooked in this discussion is the effect that stigmatization can have on health. In this paper, I identify two ways that social stigma can create health disparities: directly by impacting health-care seeking behaviour and indirectly through the internalization of negative interpersonal judgments. I then argue that social arrangements that foster self-respect can reduce the impact of stigmatization on health disparities. I conclude by showing how John Rawls' conception of justice can be used to address the intersection of stigma, health, and self-respect, in contrast to critics of his position, who have seen him as excessively focused on the allocation of material goods.

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