Considered as one type of justice, distributive justice is a central concept in the Catholic tradition and is closely linked to the concepts of human dignity, the common good, and human rights. Considered as an ethical principle, distributive justice refers to what society or a larger group owes its individual members in proportion to: 1) the individual’s needs, contribution and responsibility; 2) the resources available to the society or organization (market considerations would be included under this, as well as other financial considerations); and 3) the society’s or organization’s responsibility to the common good. In the context of health care, distributive justice requires that everyone receive equitable access to the basic health care necessary for living a fully human life insofar as there is a basic human right to health care.
The principle of distributive justice implies that society has a duty to the individual in serious need and that all individuals have duties to others in serious need. In decisions regarding the allocation of resources, such as rationing decisions, the duty of society is not diminished because of the person’s status or nature of illness. Everyone is entitled to equal access to basic care necessary for living in a human way. Triage must presume an essential equality of persons. In other words, allocation decisions should not be based upon judgments of the quality of persons. Benefits and burdens should also be distributed in a just manner.