Britain's NHS Makes Controversial Proposal

March 8, 2011

A few years ago, Britain's National Health Service (NHS) first considered refusing to treat obese people for lifestyle-related illnesses.  In the same vein, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the NHS's guidance body, produced advice that raised the prospect of heavy smokers and obese people being refused healthcare.  An NHS health trust in Northern England now proposes to stop sending obese people and smokers for certain operations because their unhealthy lifestyles allegedly lower the chance of an operation's success, say Patrick Basham, director of the Democracy Institute, and John Luik, a Democracy Institute senior fellow.

However, Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, contends, "these [policies] are being introduced because of financial constraints."

The first problem with this discriminatory policy is that preventing morbid obesity and smoking can save lives but it does not save money. 

  • For a very long time, economists have known that smoking and smokers are good for the public treasury, if not for public health.
  • Recently, economic research has shown that the morbidly obese are also net contributors to the British Exchequer.

The second problem is that it is an illegitimate function of the state to penalize individuals for unhealthy behavior.

Such discrimination on the grounds of lifestyle is illiberal and encroaches on individual rights, and is arguably beyond the legitimate function of the state.  Refusing medical treatment to an individual who not only requires it but who has financially contributed more than the average to its funding, as a means of coercing him or her toward healthier behavior, is undemocratic, say Basham and Luik.

Source: Patrick Basham and John Luik, "Health Care for All! Unless You're Fat," Spiked Online, March 3, 2011.

For text:

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/10260/

 

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