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How economics could extend the scope of ethical discourse
  1. Alan Williams
  1. University of York


    Ethical discourse is typically inconclusive, and with good reason. But this inconclusiveness is a distinct disadvantage when it comes to helping publicly accountable policy-makers in the health care system provide an ethical justification for their decisions. It is suggested that instead of ending with platitudinous statements such as that a balance has to be struck between the rival ethical considerations, empirical research should be undertaken to elicit the quantitative trade-offs that the affected general public would be prepared to accept when striking this balance. In the expected absence of any consensus, it is further suggested that the views of the median person be taken as the best approximation to the group view. Finally it is argued that, far from this quantitative approach lacking humanity by treating individuals as “mere statistics”, it shows greater compassion than the proponents of those approaches whose fellow feeling can only be stirred by information pertaining to identified individuals.

    • Health economics
    • QALYs
    • equity
    • trade-offs
    • “fair innings”
    • “statistical compassion”

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    • Alan Williams is quasi-retired Professor of Economics in the Centre for Health Economics, University of York, Heslington, York.

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