Kantian Journal

2022 Vol. 41. №1

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Kant in the Time of COVID



During the coronavirus pandemic, communities have faced shortages of important healthcare resources such as COVID-19 vaccines, medical staff, ICU beds and ventilators. Public health officials in the U.S. have had to make decisions about two major issues: which infected patients should be treated first (triage), and which people who are at risk of infection should be inoculated first (vaccine distribution). Following Beauchamp and Childress’s principlism, adopted guidelines have tended to value both whole lives (survival to discharge) and life-years (survival for years past discharge). This process of collective moral reasoning has revealed our common commitment to both Kantian and utilitarian principles. For Kant, respecting people’s rights entails that we ought to value whole lives equally. Therefore we ought to allocate resources so as to maximise the number of patients who survive to discharge. By contrast, the principle of utility has us maximise life-years so that people can satisfy more of their considered preferences. Although people are treated impartially in the utilitarian calculus, it does not recognise their equal worth. Subjecting Kantian ethics and utilitarianism to the process of reflective equilibrium lends support to the idea that we need a pluralistic approach that would accommodate our moral intuitions regarding both the equal value of whole lives and the additive value of life-years.


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