Concerns for the worse off: fair innings versus severity

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Jan;60(2):257-63. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.05.003.


The original fair innings argument is about claims on length of life. Alan Williams has suggested that the argument also should apply to quality of life. His 'generalised fair innings approach' on the one hand, and the severity approach on the other, are two ways of incorporating concerns for fairness in economic evaluation of health care. They are based on different ethical arguments and therefore partly lead to different results. Both approaches incorporate concerns for current and future severity. There is strong support for this in formal theories of justice and government guidelines, and a number of public surveys even indicate the strength of these concerns. The generalised fair innings approach additionally incorporates concerns for past suffering. Intuitively, this is not unreasonable, but there is at this point little ethical theory or empirical evidence to suggest the strength of such concerns. The fair innings argument can be decomposed in an 'equal innings argument' and a 'sufficient innings argument'. When the fair innings argument is applied to quality of life, its sufficient innings component implies that young people should have priority over old people when it comes to functional improvements and symptom relief for non-fatal conditions. This runs counter to both moral intuitions and official goverment guidelines in Norway and Sweden.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Health Care Rationing / methods
  • Health Priorities / ethics*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy*
  • Norway
  • Quality of Life
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Social Justice*
  • Sweden
  • Value of Life / economics