The Triage of “Blameworthy” Patients

Philosophies 7 (5):99 (2022)
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Abstract

One question that has sometimes cropped up in the debate on triage and the management of scarce healthcare resources concerns patients’ merits, demerits, and responsibility with regard to their own medical condition. During the current pandemic, some have wondered, when it comes to accessing healthcare, whether patients who have refused vaccination—despite the availability of vaccines and pressure to get vaccinated from the health authorities—should be given the same priority as patients who have diligently undergone vaccination in accordance with the authorities’ recommendations. The issue of patients’ merits and demerits is not new, and it did not emerge with the pandemic for the first time. In the past, the question was often posed whether terrorists have the right to receive the same treatment as their victims, with the same degree of priority, all clinical conditions being equal. Another issue that has been raised concerns patients suffering from diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles that they have freely adopted: drinking, smoking, eating fatty foods, practising extreme sports, etc. The conclusion reached in the present article is that it is indeed possible to identify certain general rules for cases of this sort, as is shown by the literature on the topic. However, slavishly following these rules, even in exceptional cases for which it is impossible to make detailed provisions, can lead to disastrous consequences. Therefore, following Aristotle, the article seeks to take account both of the rule of justice and of equity, which is a form of “situational justice” capable of filling the gaps of general norms in the light of concrete cases.

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Fabrizio Turoldo
University of Venice

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