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Saving Lives and Respecting Persons

by Greg Bognar, Samuel J. Kerstein

In the distribution of resources, persons must be respected, or so many philosophers contend. Unfortunately, they often leave it unclear why a certain allocation would respect persons, while another would not. In this paper, we explore what it means to respect persons in the distribution of scarce, life-saving resources. We begin by presenting two kinds of cases. In different age cases, we have a drug that we must use either to save a young person who would live for many more years or an old person who would only live for a few. In different numbers cases, we must save either one person or many persons from certain death. We argue that two familiar accounts of respect for persons―an equal worth account, suggested by Jeff McMahan, and a Kantian account, inspired by the Formula of Humanity―have implausible implications in such cases. We develop a new, “three-tiered” account: one that, we claim, generates results in such cases that accord better with many people’s considered judgments than those produced by its rivals.

ISSN 1559-3061
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