Medical Ethics
Michael Green
Manuel Vargas
phone, office information

11 May. Numbers don't count.
13 May. Aggregation and Kamm.
15 May. How to measure quality in a QALY
15 May. QALYs and fairness
18 May. The veil of ignorance argument
22 May. QALYs in macro and micro contexts
27 May. Rakowski and Post on preferring the younger.
29 May. How great a loss is death?
3 June. Consent as a way out?

Medical Ethics: 13 May. Glover

The dilemma

Glover wants to argue that someone like Taurek faces a dilemma. He must hold either that numbers matter when lives are at stake or the that day of the week does. Since the day of the week is irrelevant to whether we ought to save lives or not, we should admit that numbers count.

(Glover considers a third option -- that the reason why we should save lives has nothing to do with the value of lives -- but doesn't take it very seriously).

He imagines two situations.

Situation 1

Monday: A and B are stuck on two different rocks as the tide comes in; the rescue boat can only reach one rock.

Tuesday: C is stuck on one of the rocks as the tide comes in.

Situation 2

Monday: A and C are stuck on one rock, B is on the other one; the tide is coming in.

In Situation 1, everyone would agree that C should be saved in addition to A or B (whichever was saved on Monday).

Why? There are only two explanations, according to Glover. Either saving C's life in addition to saving A or B is better than just saving A or B or it's important to save C's life if it's Tuesday rather than Monday.

In Situation 2, those who think we should save the greater number of lives would save A and C and not B. Those who deny that numbers matter would flip a coin; they would deny it's better to save A and C than it is to save B alone.

How can they say that? They must think saving C's life on Tuesday is more important than saving C's life on Monday, which is crazy! Neat argument!

Does it work?

I don't think so. There's a third option for explaining the importance of saving C in Situation 1 that those who believe numbers don't matter would insist on: it is important to save C in addition to the other person but only because doing so doesn't compete with saving anyone else.

We should save C on Tuesday in addition to whoever we saved on Monday because doing so doesn't compete with saving anyone else. When saving C does compete with saving someone else (B on Monday, for example), then it isn't obviously better to save C and another person than it is to save just one other person.

So, people like Taurek aren't committed to the absurd position of thinking that the day of the week matters.

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This page was originally posted on 5/27/98; 12:08:23 PM and was last built on 6/3/98; 2:43:58 PM with BBEdit and Frontier 5 on a Macintosh running System 8.1.