Ethical Dilemmas in Protecting Susceptible Subpopulations From Environmental Health Risks: Liberty, Utility, Fairness, and Accountability for Reasonableness

David B. Resnik, D. Robert MacDougall, Elise M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Various U.S. laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Food Quality Protection Act, require additional protections for susceptible subpopulations who face greater environmental health risks. The main ethical rationale for providing these protections is to ensure that environmental health risks are distributed fairly. In this article, we (1) consider how several influential theories of justice deal with issues related to the distribution of environmental health risks; (2) show that these theories often fail to provide specific guidance concerning policy choices; and (3) argue that an approach to public decision making known as accountability for reasonableness can complement theories of justice in establishing acceptable environmental health risks for the general population and susceptible subpopulations. Since accountability for reasonableness focuses on the fairness of the decision-making process, not the outcome, it does not guarantee that susceptible subpopulations will receive a maximum level of protection, regardless of costs or other morally relevant considerations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-41
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 4 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • accountability for reasonableness
  • environmental health protection
  • fairness
  • justice
  • liberty
  • pollution
  • susceptible subpopulations
  • utility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy

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