Health and justice: the capability to be healthy.

Change log
Venkatapuram, Sridhar 

This is an inter-disciplinary argument for a moral entitlement to a capability to be healthy. Motivated by the goal to make a human right to health intelligible and justifiable, the thesis extends the capability approach, advocated by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, to the theory and practice of the human health sciences. Moral claims related to human health are considered at the level of ethical theory, or a level of abstraction where principles of social justice that determine the purpose, form, and scope of basic social institutions are proposed, evaluated, and justified. The argument includes 1) a conception of health as capability, 2) a theory of causation and distribution of health capability as well as 3) an argument for the moral entitlement to a sufficient and equitable capability to be healthy grounded in the respect for human dignity. Moreover, the entitlement to the capability to be healthy is defended against alternative ethical approaches that focus on welfare or resources in evaluating and satisfying health claims.

In specific, it is argued that human health is best understood as a capability to be healthy—a meta-capability to achieve a cluster of basic and inter-related capabilities and functionings. Such a cluster of capabilities and functionings is in line with Martha Nussbaum’s central human capabilities. A theory of causation and distribution of health capability is put forward that integrates the “classic” biomedical factors of disease (genetic endowment, exposure to hazardous materials, behaviour), social determinants of disease, and Drèze and Sen’s econometric analysis of the causation and distribution of acute and endemic malnutrition.

Furthermore, the argument critiques Norman Daniels’s revised Rawlsian theory of health justice, and advocates for the capability approach to recognize group capabilities in light of “population health” phenomena. Lastly, the thesis also argues that a coherent, capability conception of health as a species-wide conception will tend to make any theory of justice recognizing health claims a cosmopolitan theory of justice.

Capability approach, Capabilities approach, Health inequalities, Social determinants of health, Social justice, Social epidemiology, Health justice
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge