The social determinants of health, care ethics and just health care

Contemporary Political Theory 13 (2):149-167 (2014)
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Political theorists generally defend the moral importance of health care by appealing to its purported importance in promoting good health and saving lives. Recent research on the social determinants of health demonstrates, however, that health care actually does relatively little to promote good health or save lives in comparison with other social and environmental factors. This article assesses the implications of the social determinants of health literature for existing theories of health care justice, and outlines a new approach that can justify publicly subsidized comprehensive health care despite its limited contribution to good health. Even if health care plays a relatively limited role in promoting good health, it remains morally important because of the care it provides to individuals. As such, it can be justified in terms of care ethics. When health care is justified primarily in terms of care rather than health, however, the goals of a just health-care system shift. The measure of a just health-care system is no longer strictly its ability to generate good health outcomes but also its ability to provide individuals with accessible, good quality daily care. This different focus has important consequences for the way we think about the institutions of a just health-care system as well as for the delivery and allocation of medical goods and services



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