Principles of Need and the Aggregation Thesis

Health Care Anal. 2019 Jun;27(2):77-92. doi: 10.1007/s10728-017-0346-6.


Principles of need are constantly referred to in health care priority setting. The common denominator for any principle of need is that it will ascribe some kind of special normative weight to people being worse off. However, this common ground does not answer the question how a plausible principle of need should relate to the aggregation of benefits across individuals. Principles of need are sometimes stated as being incompatible with aggregation and sometimes characterized as accepting aggregation in much the same way as utilitarians do. In this paper we argue that if one wants to take principles of need seriously both of these positions have unreasonable implications. We then characterize and defend a principle of need consisting of sufficientarian elements as well as prioritarian which avoids these unreasonable implications.

Keywords: Aggregation; Needs; Principles of need; Prioritarianism; Priority setting; Sufficiency.

MeSH terms

  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Health Priorities*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Needs Assessment