J Med Ethics 15:143-147 doi:10.1136/jme.15.3.143
  • Research Article

Castigating QALYs.

  1. J Rawles
  1. Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill.


      The ethical problem of how to apportion limited resources amongst the needy has been forced on us by arbitrary limitation of health expenditure. Its solution would not be required if health expenditure were higher. Distribution of resources according to best value for money, assessed as Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) per unit cost, has been suggested as a possible solution, but leads to absurd anomalies. In the calculation of QALYs the implied value of life is no more than the absence of suffering. The use of QALYs for the comparison of treatments that are symptomatic or life-saving therefore leads to serious undervaluation of life and treatments that prolong it. Moreover, distribution of resources by best value for money, however assessed, is inequitable since for a given degree of suffering those whose illnesses happen to be cheaper to treat will be treated in preference to those whose treatments are more expensive.