Double jeopardy, the equal value of lives and the veil of ignorance: A rejoinder to Harris

John McKie, Helga Kuhse, Jeff Richardson, Peter Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Harris levels two main criticisms against our original defence of QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years). First, he rejects the assumption implicit in the QALY approach that not all lives are of equal value. Second, he rejects our appeal to Rawls's veil of ignorance test in support of the QALY method. In the present article we defend QALYs against Harris's criticisms. We argue that some of the conclusions Harris draws from our view that resources should be allocated on the basis of potential improvements in quality of life and quantity of life are erroneous, and that others lack the moral implications Harris claims for them. On the other hand, we defend our claim that a rational egoist, behind a veil of ignorance, could consistently choose to allocate life-saving resources in accordance with the QALY method, despite Harris's claim that a rational egoist would allocate randomly if there is no better than a 50% chance of being the recipient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-208
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


  • Health economics
  • QALY
  • Resource allocation


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