The magic word? Ethical experience of prioritizing cancer-related health action in a Swedish context
Speaker: Christian Munthe (University of Gothenburg)
Date: 5 April 2018
Conference: What Is so Special About Cancer? Perspectives from Clinical Research, Philosophy and Social Sciences
Across health systems and the history of modern welfare societies, the experience of cancer as a privileged diagnostic category in the prioritizing of resources for different health actions is commonplace, although there are notable exceptions to be found in low resource settings. While this situation can often be criticised from an ethical standpoint, health resource allocation also has a political pragmatic side that may, if not justify, so at least partly excuse the way in which measures related to cancer are being given privileged access to healthcare and public health resources. This since democratically elected political representatives cannot completely ignore the iconic status of cancer in the public mind. I describe some of this dynamic based on the Swedish experience of introducing screening and testing programs, as well as new drugs for cancer treatment. While Sweden is certainly not immune to the privileged standing of cancer in health resource allocation, there is a development in public and popular attitude towards a more egalitarian conception of cancer disease compared to other diseases. Parts that explain this development have to do with a new and more systematic focus on assessing the effectiveness of and evidence for suggested health actions according to generic models, such as HTA, standardised rules how priority setting arguments must be shaped in order to have political validity, and a broader awareness of the phenomenon of opportunity cost in policy making generally. In addition, political agendas increasingly focused on cost cutting in public expenditure in spite of ever greater levels of societal wealth has certainly also contributed, albeit that mechanism may probably also be properly criticised from an ethical standpoint.
• This event was sponsored by the Limits of the Numerical Research Project at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, with generous support from the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF).