Bednets or Biotechnology: To Rescue Current Persons or Research for the Future?

D. E. Callies,  Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences,  14. 2020.

Malaria is still a significant cause of death and suffering throughout much of the developing world. Fortunately, the global community provides significant (though, not sufficient) resources to combat the disease and the parasite that causes it. How ought we to allocate these resources? One option is to purchase and distribute perhaps the best tool we have to prevent malaria: insecticide-treated nets. Another route would see us invest in research and development of a novel biotechnology that could eradicate the disease in perpetuity. If we choose to spend our money on insecticide-treated nets, we will be rescuing current individuals at risk of being infected with the parasite. Though, we can be almost certain there will be future individuals who will also need rescuing. If we instead invest in the novel biotechnology, we could benefit countless future individuals who never have to experience the threat of malaria. Hence, this would mean that some number of current individuals will die due to the lack of insecticide-treated nets that otherwise could have saved their lives. So, ought we to rescue current, identifiable individuals, or ought we invest in research for the sake of the future? After an exploration of the duty to rescue and cost-effectiveness analysis, I suggest we look towards the literature on intergenerational justice for a justifiable answer to the question of how we ought to allocate our malaria resources.


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