Capabilities and health

Anand, P. (2005). Capabilities and health. Journal of Medical Ethics, 31(5) pp. 299–303.




Sen’s capabilities approach offers a radical generalisation of the conventional approach to welfare economics. It has been highly influential in development and many researchers are now beginning to explore its implications for health care. This paper contributes to the emerging debate by discussing two examples of such applications: first, at the individual decision making level, namely the right to die, and second, at the social choice level. For the first application, which draws on Nussbaum’s list of capabilities, it is argued that many capabilities are ambiguously or indirectly related to the right to die, but the ability to form a concept of the good life and plan one’s own life provides a direct justification for such a right. In the second application, the focus is specifically on healthcare rationing and it is argued that, although not committed to age based rationing, the capabilities approach provides a more natural justification of age related access to health care than the fair innings argument, which is often used to justify the alleged ageism inherent in quality adjusted life years (QALY) maximisation.

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