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Bioethics. 1997 Jul-Oct;11(3-4):277-90.

Public preferences for health care: prioritisation in the United Kingdom.


The Government in the UK is encouraging consumerism within health care and is requiring Health Authorities to consult with the public on prioritisation of resources. Public consultation within the National Health Service (NHS) has had limited success in the past. Many of the techniques used are flawed. Despite the limited scope of the public surveys conducted so far, a number of themes have emerged: a willingness to pay for experimental, 'high-tech' life-saving treatments rather than more cost-effective treatments which will improve quality of life, which are more likely to maximise utility from the scarce resources available; preference for treating the young rather than the old; preference for treating patients with dependents (e.g. spouse, children) rather than those who have none; a willingness to discriminate against those patients who were partially responsible for their illness due to choice of 'unhealthy' lifestyle (e.g. smoking cigarettes, drinking excess alcohol). These public preferences raise ethical problems. For example, is it just to spend more on heroic treatments which are likely to fail? Is there a right to health care irrespective of whether you have had 'a fair innings' or whether a patient is in part responsible for their illness due to an unhealthy lifestyle? If there are ethical concerns about these preferences, should health authorities consult with the public at all? Is human life and suffering incommensurable, and hence is it impossible to prioritise anyway? Some of the ethical consequences of using empirical data on public preferences are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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