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QALYS and DALYS - Our reaction to Lord Sumption

Jan 22, 2021

In a brief return to my previous life, let’s look at QALYS and DALYS. You are going to love these. Widely attributed to be the driver for Lord Sumption’s assigning a value to life using a sliding scale.

QALYS – Quality adjusted life years

This is a measure used to calculate the value of public health interventions (and in some cases, justify control measures, or lack of them, in the work place).

The calculation takes life expectancy into account (assigning a higher value to a younger person, making an older life less valuable) combined with the quality of life for the remaining years (making the life of someone with a debilitating disease less valuable than that of someone in fine health). 

DALYS – Disability Adjusted Life Years

This measure takes into account the number of years lost to an early death and the years lived with the disability or disease responsible for the premature death.

I am no defender of Lord Sumption, I merely set out the way in which he is likely to have made his value of life comparison calculations.

His use of them in this context goes very much against the decision in the Anthony Bland case (withdrawal of nutrition from an 18 year old patient in a persistent vegetive state, as a result of the Hillsborough Disaster).

Lord Hoffmann’s words bring comfort to us all.

Is the court to assume the role of God and decide who should live and who should die?… This is not an area in which any difference can be allowed to exist between what is legal and what is morally right. The decision of the court should be able to carry conviction with the ordinary person as being based not merely on legal precedent but also upon acceptable ethical values.

Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] 2 WLR 316 at 350F–G (Hoffmann LJ)

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