The moral importance of selecting people randomly

Bioethics. 2008 Jul;22(6):321-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2008.00636.x. Epub 2008 Apr 23.


This article discusses some ethical principles for distributing pandemic influenza vaccine and other indivisible goods. I argue that a number of principles for distributing pandemic influenza vaccine recently adopted by several national governments are morally unacceptable because they put too much emphasis on utilitarian considerations, such as the ability of the individual to contribute to society. Instead, it would be better to distribute vaccine by setting up a lottery. The argument for this view is based on a purely consequentialist account of morality; i.e. an action is right if and only if its outcome is optimal. However, unlike utilitarians I do not believe that alternatives should be ranked strictly according to the amount of happiness or preference satisfaction they bring about. Even a mere chance to get some vaccine matters morally, even if it is never realized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Ethical Theory / classification*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Health Priorities / classification*
  • Health Priorities / ethics
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines / supply & distribution*
  • Morals*
  • Patient Selection / ethics*
  • Random Allocation


  • Influenza Vaccines