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Whose preferences count?

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An important consideration when choosing how to allocate health care resources is the improvements in patients' health-related quality of life (HRQoL) that alternative allocations generate. There is considerable debate about whose preferences should be used when measuring and valuing HRQoL. This debate has usually been in terms of whether the values of patients or the general public are the most appropriate. It is argued in this paper that this is a false dichotomy that does not facilitate understanding of empirical evidence. Nor, more importantly, does it address one of the most important issues in the debate about whose preferences count, that is, whether the fact that many people adapt to poor health states should be taken into account when ascribing values to those states. A conceptual framework is developed to facilitate a more fruitful discussion of the issues relating to the question of whose preferences should count.

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