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Ethics at a Glance
Principles of Justice
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general principle of justice requires that we act in ways that treat people equitably and fairly. Actions that discriminate against individuals or a class of people arbitrarily or without a justifiable basis would violate this basic principle.

Of special concern in the health care context is the notion of distributive justice. This conception of justice refers to an equitable balance of benefits and burdens with particular attention to situations involving the allocation of resources. Munson (2004) offers four specific principles of distributive justice that can be considered in situations involving the distribution of material goods and resources, especially those that are scarce. The principle of equality requires that all benefits and burdens be distributed equally. The advantage to this conception of justice is that everyone is entitled to an equal share of resources; however the principle becomes problematic when not everyone is perceived as equally deserving of an equal share.

A second principle is the principle of need, which suggests that resources should be distributed based on need so that those with greater need will receive a greater share. In theory, this supports the principle of equality in that everyone will end up with the same share of goods. A difficulty common to both of these principles is the question of exactly what material goods and resources we are entitled to. Definitive agreement has not been reached in this society as to whether health care is such a good.

The last two principles address more directly our sense of fairness. The principle of contribution maintains that persons should benefit in proportion to their individual contribution. Those who contribute proportionately more to the production of goods should receive proportionately more goods in return. Similarly, the principle of effort recognizes the degree of effort made by an individual as the determining factor in the proportion of goods to be received.

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