Morality and the limits of societal values in health care allocation

Health Econ. 2002 Apr;11(3):265-73. doi: 10.1002/hec.665.


In this paper, we consider whether there is a clear moral justification for the proposal that societal value preferences (SVPs) should be included in Cost Effectiveness Analyses (CEA) of health care resource allocations. We argue, first, that proponents of the use of SVPs need to be clear about the relationship between these values and moral principles. In particular, once moral principles are accepted as ruling out some SVPs (such as those that are irrational or revealing prejudice), an account is required of why we need to appeal to SVPs rather than moral principles to determine a just division of health care resources. Secondly, we consider whether an independent moral justification might underwrite the use of SVPs. In various places in the literature the notions of representation, presumed consent and democratic decision making appear to be invoked as candidates for fulfilling this justificatory role. We discuss some problems with each of these justifications in the hope of eliciting a more comprehensive proposal from the proponents of SVPs. We conclude that, although a number of interesting proposals have been made, no compelling justification for including SVPs in CEA has yet been systematically articulated.

MeSH terms

  • Community Participation
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods*
  • Decision Making
  • Democracy
  • Health Care Rationing / economics*
  • Health Care Rationing / standards*
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Social Justice
  • Social Values*