Severity as a priority setting criterion in health care

Often, in healthcare, whoever is more severely affected is helped first. But the lack of a clear definition or rationale behind the use of 'severity' as a prioritiy-setting criterion raises ethical concerns.

  • Funder: Swedish Research Council
  • Type of funding: Projektbidrag

Healthcare priorities and severity

For any health care system, priority setting is unavoidable. One priority setting criterion that has broad public support is that of prioritising the worse off or, put differently, prioritizing patients based on severity of illness. However, despite its prominent role in decision making, severity is an undertheorized and contested concept, with an unclear normative rationale.

The aim of this project is to work out a normatively robust conceptualization of severity as a priority setting criterion in health care. This includes:

  • Exploring the issue regarding to what extent premature death adds to severity
  • Exploring if severity should be seen as something that allows interpersonal aggregation
  • Exploring what dimensions should be taken into consideration when assessing severity (the “currency” of severity)
  • Investigating how relevant health care personnel perceive the most promising theoretical notions of severity brought forward in the project

The primary method used in this project will be normative analysis, combined with empirical methods (qualitative interviews).


This PhD project is part of the Just Severity project that has received funding by the Swedish Research Council with Niklas Juth as the principal investigator.

Lunds Universitet, Uppsala Universitet

People in the project