The Ethics of Making Risky Decisions for Others


Utilitarianism, it has been said, is not sensitive to the distribution of welfare. In making risky decisions for others there are multiple sensitivities at work. I present examples of risky decision-making involving drug allocations, charitable giving, breast-cancer screening and C-sections. In each of these examples there is a different sensitivity at work that pulls away from the utilitarian prescription. Instances of saving fewer people at a greater risk to many is more complex because there are two distributional sensitivities at work that pull in opposite directions from the utilitarian calculus. I discuss objections to these sensitivities and conclude with some reflections on the value of formal modelling in thinking about societal risk

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