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Setting Health-Care PrioritiesWhat Ethical Theories Tell Us$
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Torbjörn Tännsjö

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190946883

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190946883.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 April 2021



In Real Life

(p.142) 12 Utilitarianism
Setting Health-Care Priorities

Torbjörn Tännsjö

Oxford University Press

Utilitarianism (with or without a prioritarian amendment) is applied in real medical life. The general result, in relation to any welfare state assuming its global obligations, is that more resources should be directed to the care and cure of people suffering from mental illness; less should be spent on marginal life extension (especially among elderly patients). The argument is that mental illness robs people of happiness in a very direct manner. Mental illness often has an onset at young age and it tends to destroy entire lives. The problem with old age is not, from the point of view of happiness, that it is a bad thing as such; quite to the contrary. However, old age is typically associated with those problems that are most conspicuously conducive to loss of happiness. Old age brings loss of close ones, loneliness, bad health, and, in particular, bad mental health. The fact that subjective time is what matters to the utilitarian calculus, together with the observation that subjective time speeds up when you grow older, contributes to the conclusion that marginal life extension among old people is in many cases a waste of scarce recourses. Investment in mental health, on the other hand, makes good utilitarian sense.

Keywords:   mental health, life extension, neonatal care, end-of-life care, palliative care

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