Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 95-114

First online:

Responsibility for Health and Blaming Victims

  • Mike W. MartinAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Chapman University

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If we are responsible for taking care of our health, are we blameworthy when we become sick because we failed to meet that responsibility? Or is it immoral to blame the victim of sickness? A moral perspective that is sensitive to therapeutic concerns will downplay blame, but banishing all blame is neither feasible nor desirable. We need to understand the ambiguities surrounding moral responsibility in four contexts: (1) preventing sickness, (2) assigning financial liabilities for health care costs, (3) giving meaning to human suffering, and (4) interacting with health care professionals. We also need to distinguish different kinds of blame, explore the interplay of justice and compassion in avoiding unjustified blaming of victims, and work toward a unified moral-therapeutic perspective that encourages individuals to accept responsibility while avoiding destructive forms of blaming.

blaming victims compassion illness justice responsibility for health