CHHS Research Seminar (online) – Dr Lindsey Porter

We were joined by Dr Lindsey Porter on the 7th October who presented a paper on ‘Harm Reduction and Moral Desert in the Context of Drug Policy’.

The target of Porter’s discussion is folk intuitions that lay people have about justice in the context of drug policy – intuitions that take on a more or less moral-desert-based shape. Porter argued that even if we think desert is the right measure of how we ought to treat people, we ought to still be in favour of harm reduction measures for people who use drugs (dHR).

dHR approaches are those approaches to drug use that seek to reduce the harms of use without seeking to reduce the prevalence of it. Needle exchanges and supervised injections sites for IV drug users are taken to be the paradigm examples of such an approach. These measures are controversial with members of the public, and much of the opposition seems to come from something like an appeal to a desert conception of justice – the notion that a just state of affairs is one in which everybody gets what they deserve, no more, no less. A recent study, for example, found that ‘moral outrage’ predicts a preference for prevalence reduction (via criminal sanction, etc.) over dHR. The thinking seems to be that since drug use is wrong, letting people who use drugs suffer, and / or die, as a consequence of their use is just. Aiding their health and safety, while perhaps compassionate, is unjust.

Porter argued that there is a bad desert fit between using drugs and suffering avoidable harm even if it is the case that using drugs is morally wrong. Many of the possible harms of drug use are socially / policy driven, and much more problematic drug use is context dependent, not cleanly attributable to the decisions of the person who uses drugs. This means that even if drug use is wrong, people who use drugs deserve dHR policies, at minimum.

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