There is strong evidence that harm reduction interventions such as Supervised Injection Sites and Needle Exchange Programs prevent many of the negative consequences of problematic substance use. Yet many governments, including the United States and Canada, still do not endorse these interventions, claiming that they do not get people off of drugs and send a mixed message.
This paper will analyze objections to harm reduction in light of the ethical theories of John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle.
The most important ethical issue in the abstinence vs. harm reduction debate is whether harm reduction - because it does not require individuals to either reduce their consumption of illicit substances or to abstain from illicit substance use - can be ethically justified.
Harm reduction interventions are clearly justified on Utilitarian grounds because, based on the evidence, such policies would produce the greatest good for the greatest number. However, Kant would not think that the values guiding harm reduction are ethical because the justification of harm reduction interventions focuses exclusively on examining consequences. Virtue Ethics seeks to find the proper balance between harm reduction and abstinence. We claim that the virtue of compassion would provide a defense of harm reduction.