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Potential for epistemic injustice in evidence-based healthcare policy and guidance
  1. Jonathan Anthony Michaels
  1. Health Economics and Decision Science, The University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research, Sheffield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Jonathan Anthony Michaels, Health Economics and Decision Science, The University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research, Sheffield S1 4DA, UK; j.michaels{at}


The rapid development in healthcare technologies in recent years has resulted in the need for health services, whether publicly funded or insurance based, to identify means to maximise the benefits and provide equitable distribution of limited resources. This has resulted in the need for rationing decisions, and there has been considerable debate regarding the substantive and procedural ethical principles that promote distributive justice when making such decisions. In this paper, I argue that while the scientifically rigorous approaches of evidence-based healthcare are claimed as aspects of procedural justice that legitimise such guidance, there are biases and distortions in all aspects of the process that may lead to epistemic injustices. Regardless of adherence to principles of distributive justice in the decision-making process, evidential failings may undermine the fairness and legitimacy of such decisions. In particular, I identify epistemic exclusion that denies certain patient and professional groups the opportunity to contribute to the epistemic endeavour. This occurs at all stages of the process, from the generation, analysis and reporting of the underlying evidence, through the interpretation of such evidence, to the decision-making that determines access to healthcare resources. I further argue that this is compounded by processes which confer unwarranted epistemic privilege on experts in relation to explicit or implicit value judgements, which are not within their remit. I suggest a number of areas in which changes to the processes for developing, regulating, reporting and evaluating evidence may improve the legitimacy of such processes.

  • clinical ethics
  • distributive justice
  • ethics
  • health economics

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  • Contributors The paper is entirely the work of the sole author.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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