Measuring preferences for health states worse than death

Med Decis Making. 1994 Jan-Mar;14(1):9-18. doi: 10.1177/0272989X9401400102.


Previous research indicates that persons assigning values to ranges of health states consider some states to be worse than death. In a study of decisions regarding life-sustaining treatments, the authors adapted and assessed existing methods for their ability to identify and quantify preferences for health states near to or worse than death in a population of well adults and nursing home residents. The cognitive burdens involved in these decisions were also evaluated. Hypothetical health states based on six attributes of functional status were constructed to describe severe constant pain, dementia, and coma. The methods of rank order, category scaling, time tradeoff, and standard gamble were adapted to quantify states worse than death. Cognitive burden was assessed using completion rates, interviewer assessments, respondents' self-reporting, and investigators' evaluations. For both respondent groups, all methods showed similar degrees of cognitive burden for those able to complete the tasks and were similar in their ability to identify and quantify preferences. The majority of nursing home residents, however, were unable to complete or comprehend the measurement tasks. Most respondents evaluated their current health and severe constant pain as better than death; dementia and coma were more often considered equal to or worse than death. These results indicate that respondents can and do evaluate some health states as worse than death. The authors recommend systematic inclusion of states worse than death to describe a more complete range of preference values and routine assessment of the cognitive burdens of assessment techniques to evaluate methodologies.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Coma / psychology
  • Decision Making*
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Homes
  • Pain / psychology
  • Quality of Life*