The principle is that each person should be given an equal chance of a reasonable length of life. Sounds sweet and fair, until you think a bit harder to what this actually means : the older you are, the weaker your case to claim a donated kidney organ or a place on a lifeboat when somebody younger wants it. It was proposed by medical ethicist John Harris in analysing how medical resources are rationed.

The logic of the argument leads to six issues:

Is there such a thing as a fair share of life? How do we determine it ? Do some parts along the lifespan suck before we get to our golden age (if that exists ?) What point is being made in a film when the cop gets shot dead only days before retirement ?

Does it make sense to talk of a fair share of resources in the context of health care and the fair innings argument How do we divvy up resources ? Do we sacrifice a 80 year old's triple bypass operation for a 15 year old's tattoo removal ?

What about quality of life ? I am not going to get into the arguments of euthenasia, except that a teenager suffering from an insufferably painful, irreversable condition with a diminshed quality of life for the next fifty years sounds a lot worse than if similiarly somebody older had a shorter time to live.

Is sensible to discuss the merits of the fair innings argument without taking account of the 'all other things being equal' argument ? Because rarely are all other things remain equal. Younger people may be criminals, or may not be net contributors to society. Older people may have family responsibilities or have been trained in skills that make them net contributors.

The notion of unfairness and misfortune The former involves a value judgement, and the latter involves risk. Dying prematurely from skin cancer because you parked you bod on a beach and looked great for thirty years is hardly unfair or unfortunate if you were aware of the dangers of UV radiation. But did older people have the advantage of anti-tobacco advertising ?

When young people die it is tragic; when old people die it is misfortunate "Because they had so much potential...." Really ? So do foeti (in fact maybe more so, because you still have a chance of not introducing a foetus to television).