Belief in a Just World: A Case Study in Public Health Ethics

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Hastings Center Report

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This article offers a case study in Georgia on public health ethics and advocacy for public assistance programs. It explores the findings of a study by the National Center for Children in Poverty, entitled “How Belief in a Just World Influences Views of Public Policy,” in the context of overwhelmingly negative public reaction to a news story that had attempted a sympathetic portrait of a working-class married couple whose children were enrolled in PeachCare for Kids, a health insurance program for children that is Georgia’s version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The NCCP study found that for respondents who had a strong belief in a just world, the more a hypothetical woman did to improve her situation, the less deserving they found her to be to receive public assistance. It was the opposite for respondents with a weak belief in a just world: the more she tried to improve her situation, the more deserving they found her. * The NCCP study may help to explain why so many readers, despite the newspaper’s apparent attempt to put a sympathetic human “face” on the PeachCare program, found the family to be undeserving of it. By contrast, when Georgians were polled in more general terms about the program, respondents were highly supportive of providing PeachCare to families eligible under the current guidelines and even of expanding the program. This Georgia case study illustrates the NCCP’s conclusion that the “face” and the “context” given to a government aid program can impact the public’s support for it, either negatively or positively. Advocates who want to ensure a just distribution of health care to low-income families need to understand how differently “justice” may be perceived by different people.

Recommended Citation

Charity Scott, Belief in a Just World: A Case Study in Public Health Ethics, 38 Hastings Ctr. Rpt. 16 (2008).







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