Our good friend Jones has amassed a fortune through an enviable recipe of hard work and clean living. Jones has no heirs, and unfortunately for us, does not consider us to be particularly good friends of hers. Actually, she has said repeatedly that she sees little point in leaving even a cent of her money behind when she dies.
Sadly, in the past week Jones learned that she has a life-threatening brain tumor. Given the standard medical treatment, covered by the medical insurance plan Jones selected for herself, doctors tell Jones she has a 10% chance of surviving beyond one month. However, one doctor in the country has developed a ground-breaking new technique called the “super gamma knife.” This safe technique costs $10 million and imposes remarkable social costs (the doctor has to notify the local power companies before each procedure to avoid brownouts, and performing the procedure takes him away from his work as a youth mentor). But the procedure would increase her chance of surviving beyond one month to 15%. Relevantly, when researching health insurance, Jones opted against purchasing the super-expensive “DeLorean” plan, which would have covered this type of futuristic procedure.
Jones realizes that $10 million is a lot to spend for such a small increase in her chance of survival, but since her money is worth nothing to her after she dies, she might as well pay for the cutting-edge technique.
Professor Ariel Porat, in a developing paper co-authored with Avraham Tabbach and Omri Yadlin, suggests that this story should bother us for a number of reasons. Porat discussed the paper with the Law and Philosophy Workshop.