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On the relevance of personal responsibility in priority setting: a cross-sectional survey among Norwegian medical doctors
  1. Berit Bringedal1,
  2. Eli Feiring2
  1. 1Harvard University Program in Ethics and Health, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Department of Health Management and Health Economics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Dr Berit Bringedal, Harvard University Program in Ethics and Health, Harvard Medical School; 641 Huntington Avenue, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02215, USA; berit_bringedal{at}


The debate on responsibility for health takes place within political philosophy and in policy setting. It is increasingly relevant in the context of rationing scarce resources as a substantial, and growing, proportion of diseases in high-income countries is attributable to lifestyle. Until now, empirical studies of medical professionals' attitudes towards personal responsibility for health as a component of prioritisation have been lacking. This paper explores to what extent Norwegian physicians find personal responsibility for health relevant in prioritisation and what type of risk behaviour they consider relevant in such decisions. The proportion who agree that it should count varies from 17.1% (‘Healthcare priority should depend on the patient's responsibility for the disease’) to 26.9% (‘Access to scarce organ transplants should depend on the patient's responsibility for the disease’). Higher age and being male is positively correlated with acceptance. The doctors are more willing to consider substance use in priority setting decisions than choices on food and exercise. The findings reveal that a sizeable proportion have beliefs that conflict with the norms stated in the Norwegian Patient Act. It may be possible that the implementation of legal regulations can be hindered by the opposing attitudes among doctors. A further debate on the role personal responsibility should play in priority setting seems warranted. However, given the deep controversies about the concept of health responsibility and its application, it would be wise to proceed with caution.

Design Nationally representative cross-sectional study.

Setting Panel-data.

Participants 1072 respondents, response rate 65%.

  • Priority setting
  • responsibility
  • lifestyle
  • doctors'
  • behaviour
  • just health
  • applied and professional ethics
  • philosophy of the health professions
  • allocation of health care resources

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  • Competing interests None.

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

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