QALYs and ageism: philosophical theories and age weighting

Health Econ. 2000 Jan;9(1):57-68. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-1050(200001)9:1<57::aid-hec484>;2-n.


QALY maximization is sometimes criticized for being 'ageist', because, other things being equal, the elderly, with a shorter life expectancy, will be given lower priority. On the other hand, there are philosophical arguments that, for different reasons, advocate rationing health care to the elderly, even when the size of the expected benefits in QALY terms is the same across older and younger patients. This paper examines six proposals, both from the philosophical and the health economics literature, that will lead to such conclusions. These are: two variants of the so-called fair innings argument, the fair innings weights, the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) age weighting, the biographical life span, and the prudential lifetime account. Two questions are addressed with regard to each of these. First, what is the reason for choosing the younger patient when the QALY gains are equal; second, will the younger patient continue to be chosen even when the QALY gains to the older patient are larger. The paper studies the relationship between the six proposals and explores their possible implications for QALY maximization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Care Rationing
  • Health Services for the Aged*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Prejudice
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Social Justice