Omnipresent Health Checks May Result in Over-responsibilization

Public Health Ethics 10 (1) (2017)
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Abstract

Health checks identify disease in individuals without a medical indication. More and more checks are offered by more providers on more risk factors and diseases, so we may speak of an omnipresence of health checks. Current ethical evaluation of health checks considers checks on an individual basis only. However, omnipresent checks have effects over and above the effects of individual health checks. They might give the impression that health is entirely manageable by individual actions and strengthen the norm of individual responsibility for health to the point where people hold themselves and others responsible for health outcomes they cannot reasonably be held accountable for. This process of so-called ‘over-responsibilization’ may result in increased feelings of guilt over health, decreased health solidarity and unfairly distributed health outcomes. Moreover, effects on privacy and peace of mind may be observed. Taking into account all possible harms and benefits of health checks in their ethical evaluation requires evaluation of health checks on an individual basis as well as on the level of all checks. Therefore, we urge the amendment of existing ethical evaluation to include the effects of an omnipresence of health checks. We make a first attempt at the formulation of amended criteria.

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