Beyond accountability for reasonableness

Bioethics. 2008 Feb;22(2):101-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2007.00605.x.


This paper is a critique of Norman Daniels' and James Sabin's 'Accountability for Reasonableness' framework for making priority-setting decisions in health care in the face of widespread disagreement about values. Accountability for Reasonableness has been rapidly gaining worldwide acceptance, arguably to the point of becoming the dominant paradigm in the field of health policy. The framework attempts to set ground rules for a procedure that ensures that whatever decisions result will be fair, reasonable, and legitimate to the extent that even those who would be adversely affected will have reason to abide by them. I argue that the framework's four conditions are inadequate to this task. While we certainly require a fair and legitimate procedure for making priority setting decisions in health care despite a lack of consensus on relevant ethical and political issues, we must significantly revise the four conditions, and we cannot avoid facing our substantive disagreements head on if we hope to arrive at decisions that would (and should) be acceptable to everyone. I offer two suggestions. First, there is need for greater public involvement in all stages of deliberation. Second, we should give up on the idea that we can simplify the task of democratic deliberation by disallowing particular kinds or reasons and types of reasoning. Reasons of all kinds should be on the table, but then should be judged on their merits, such as consistency, plausibility and explanatory power, without any regard for their alleged sources of authority.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Ethical Analysis
  • Ethical Theory
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Social Responsibility*