Respect for persons permits prioritizing treatment for hiv/aids

Developing World Bioethics 8 (2):89-103 (2008)
Abstract
I defend a certain claim about rationing in the context of HIV/AIDS, namely, the 'priority thesis' that the state of a developing country with a high rate of HIV should provide highly active anti-retroviral treatment (HAART) to those who would die without it, even if doing so would require not treating most other life-threatening diseases. More specifically, I defend the priority thesis in a negative way, by refuting two influential and important arguments against it inspired by the Kantian principle of respect for persons. The 'equality argument' more or less maintains that prioritizing treatment for HIV/AIDS would objectionably treat those who suffer from it as more important than those who do not. The 'responsibility argument' says, roughly, that to ration life-saving treatment by prioritizing those with HIV would wrongly fail to hold people responsible for their actions, since most people infected with HIV could have avoided the foreseeable harm of infection. While it appears that a Kantian must think that one of these two arguments is sound, I maintain that, in fact, respect for persons grounds neither the equality nor responsibility argument against prioritizing HAART and hence at least permits doing so. If this negative defence of the priority thesis succeeds, then conceptual space is opened up for the possibility that respect for persons requires prioritizing HAART, which argument I sketch in the conclusion as something to articulate and defend in future work.
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