Social value judgements in healthcare: a philosophical critique

This paper considers some of the philosophical and bioethical issues raised by the creation of the draft social values framework developed to facilitate data collection and country-specific presentations at the inaugural workshop on social values and health priority setting held in February 2011.

Journal article

Published: 15/06/2012

Journal article information



Conceptual analysis is used to analyse the term “social values”, as employed in the framework, and its relationship to related ideas such as moral values. The structure of the framework (process and content values) is considered in light of current debate in philosophy and bioethics about the political and moral aims served by these kinds of values, and the extent to which they are either suited to, or sufficient for, the policy context.


There is much to be gained by engaging with the arguments presented in the philosophical literature in order to further refine the framework. The framework should remain neutral in respect of the importance of procedural values in different contexts and should be as inclusive as possible in respect of the principles it includes. Further development would be best served by taking a multidisciplinary approach. The framework could provide a valuable space in which future debates about procedural/substantive values can be considered.


The paper brings philosophical and bioethics perspectives to bear on a new framework proposed for the analysis of social values in health priority setting. It identifies how such a practical, policy‐focused framework might be informed by engagement with deeper, and often unresolved, questions or principle around resource allocation in health.