Double jeopardy and the use of QALYs in health care allocation

P. Singer, J. McKie, H. Kuhse, J. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


The use of the Quality Adjusted Life-Year (QALY) as a measure of the benefit obtained from health care expenditure has been attacked on the ground that it gives a lower value to preserving the lives of people with a permanent disability or illness than to preserving the lives of those who are healthy and not disabled. The reason for this is that the quality of life of those with illness or disability is ranked, on the QALY scale, below that of someone without a disability or illness. Hence we can, other things being equal, gain more QALYs by saving the lives of those without a permanent disability or illness than by saving the lives of those who are disadvantaged in these ways. But to do so puts these disadvantaged people under a kind of double jeopardy. Not only do they suffer from the disability or illness, but because of it, a low priority is given to forms of health care that can preserve their lives. This, so the objection runs, is unjust or unfair. This article assesses this objection to the use of QALYs as a basis for allocating health care resources. It seeks to determine what is sound in the double jeopardy objection, and then to show that the defender of QALYs has an adequate response to it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-157
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995


  • Health economics
  • QALY
  • Resource allocation

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