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The Rule of Rescue

  • McKie, John
  • Richardson, Jeff

Jonsen coined the term "Rule of Rescue"(RR) to describe the imperative people feel to rescue identifiable individuals facing avoidable death. In this paper we attempt to draw a more detailed picture of the RR, identifying its conflict with cost-effectiveness analysis, the preference it entails for identifiable over statistical lives, the shock-horror response it elicits, the preference it entails for lifesaving over non-lifesaving measures, its extension to non-life-threatening conditions, and whether it is motivated by duty or sympathy. We also consider the measurement problems it raises, and argue that quantifying the RR would probably require a two-stage procedure. In the first stage the size of the individual utility gain from a health intervention would be assessed using a technique such as the Standard Gamble or the Time Trade-Off, and in the second the social benefits arising from the RR would be quantified employing the Person Trade-Off. We also consider the normative status of the RR. We argue that it can be defended from a utilitarian point of view, on the ground that rescues increase well-being by reinforcing people's belief that they live in a community that places great value upon life. However, utilitarianism has long been criticised for failing to take sufficient account of fairness, and the case is no different here: fairness requires that we do not discriminate between individuals on morally irrelevant grounds, whereas being "identifiable" does not seem to be a morally relevant ground for discrimination.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

Volume (Year): 56 (2003)
Issue (Month): 12 (June)
Pages: 2407-2419

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Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:12:p:2407-2419
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