Harm Reduction and Moral Desert in the Context of Drug Policy.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The target of my discussion is intuitions lay people have about justice in the context of drug policy-intuitions that take on a more or less moral-desert-based shape. I argue that even if we think desert is the right measure of how we ought to treat people, we ought still be in favour of Harm Reduction measures for people who use drugs. Harm Reduction measures are controversial with members of the public, and much of the opposition seems to come from something like an appeal to a desert conception of justice-the notion that a just state of affairs is one in which everybody gets what they deserve, no more, no less. A recent study, for example, found that 'moral outrage' predicts a preference for prevalence reduction (criminal sanction, etc.) over Harm Reduction. The thinking seems to be that, since drug use is wrong, letting people who use drugs suffer and/or die as a consequence of their use is just. Aiding their health and safety, while perhaps compassionate, is unjust. I argue that there is a bad desert fit between using drugs and suffering avoidable harm even if using drugs is morally wrong. Many of the possible harms of drug use are socially/policy driven, and much problematic drug use is context dependent, not cleanly attributable to the decisions of the person who uses drugs. This means that even if drug use is wrong, people who use drugs deserve Harm Reduction policies, at minimum.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth care analysis : HCA : journal of health philosophy and policy
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020


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