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Philosophizing social justice in rural palliative care: Hayek's moral stone?

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Abstract

Increasingly, palliative care is being referred to as an essential programme and in some cases as a human right. Once it is recognized as such, it becomes part of the lexicon of social justice in that it can be argued that all members of society should have access to such care. However, this begs the question of how that care should be enacted, particularly in rural and remote areas. This question illustrates some of Friedrich Hayek's critiques of social justice. Hayek has likened social justice to a ‘moral stone’ arguing that social justice is meaningless to the extent that society is impersonal and as such cannot be just, only those individuals who make up that society can be just. When responsibility for justice is assigned to an impersonal society, ideas of social justice can become a clarion call for whom no one is directly accountable. This opens the door for questionable macro‐level political agendas that have no capacity to enact the ideal, and worse, may suppress individual moral acts towards the desired end. Further, acts of interference at the macro level with the ideal of equal opportunity run the risk of disadvantaging other members of society. Instead, he has argued that a better approach lies in finding ways to induce and support individual moral acts that promote the human good. Hayek's arguments are particularly compelling for rural palliative care. In this paper we draw upon data from an ethnographic study in rural palliative care to illustrate the potential misfit between the ethical ideal of palliative care as expressed by rural participants and the narratives of social justice.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor 2: Infection Prevention and Control Practitioner, Northern Health Authority, Dawson Creek, BC, Canada 3: Associate Professor

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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