Bioethics Blogs

Wrongdoing and the Harm it Causes

One of the arguments against military humanitarian intervention (or wars or invasions justified on similar grounds, viz., averting harm) is that given how much such actions cost, those resources could be better used to alleviate more harm elsewhere. Against such arguments it could be suggested that humanitarian intervention stops wrongdoing and so, while we might be able to alleviate more harm elsewhere, the fact that the harm is the result of wrongdoing makes it more important. Such arguments are something I’ve been discussing with people over the past week so thought I may set out here.

Case 1.* Suppose 200 people are suffering from some disease x, and I have 100 vaccines; the 100 people who do not receive the vaccine will suffer some moderately high level of suffering over the next 24 hours and then will die. Let us suppose that the 200 people are all roughly the same age and will all likely lead lives with similar levels of well-being (and/or value) if they receive the vaccine. 100 of the people, unfortunates, have the disease merely by chance; the other 100, victims, have the disease as a result of an evil-genius poisoning them (thus, their condition is the result of a wrongdoing). Finally, let us suppose that we can only give the vaccine to one of the groups as a whole.

Does the fact that victims are suffering from the disease as a result of a wrongdoing mean that they deserve the vaccines over the unfortunates? It might be objected that the wrongdoing has already occurred, and so all we can do now is alleviate some harm.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.