An 80 year old and a 5 year old are on a sinking ship…

There is room for only one person on the lifeboat, whom do you save? This thought experiment, referred to as the lifeboat scenario, is often used in bioethics as the starting point for arguments in favor of ageism. Predictably, most people choose to save the five year old.
I was surprised to encounter such grave objections to valuing life differently based on age in this weeks reading, as this is quite starkly in opposition to the prevailing thought in bioethics. In defense of ageism, philosopher John Harris popularized the notion of fair innings- that people over a certain age have enjoyed their life, and had a chance at a fair inning, whereas younger people have been denied this chance.
Perhaps weighting life at different ages to calculate DALYs is offensive if we look at it as a way to deny the productivity of older people. Yet, if we consider that health resources in this world, even in our own country, are limited, and that care must sometimes be mutually exclusive, then maybe we can argue not that life at later ages is in itself less valuable, but that life at younger ages is more valuable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s