Health Care Analysis

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 157–168 | Cite as

Access, Equity and the Role of Rights in Health Care

Original Paper


Modern health care rhetoric promotes choice and individual patient rights as dominant values. Yet we also accept that in any regime constrained by finite resources, difficult choices between patients are inevitable. How can we balance rights to liberty, on the one hand, with equity in the allocation of scarce resources on the other? For example, the duty of health authorities to allocate resources is a duty owed to the community as a whole, rather than to specific individuals. Macro-duties of this nature are founded on the notion of equity and fairness amongst individuals rather than personal liberty. They presume that if hard choices have to be made, they will be resolved according to fair and consistent principles which treat equal cases equally, and unequal cases unequally.

In this paper, we argue for greater clarity and candour in the health care rights debate. With this in mind, we discuss (1) private and public rights, (2) negative and positive rights, (3) procedural and substantive rights, (4) sustainable health care rights and (5) the New Zealand booking system for prioritising access to elective services. This system aims to consider: individual need and ability to benefit alongside the resources made available to elective health services in an attempt to give the principles of equity practical effect. We describe a continuum on which the merits of those, sometimes competing, values—liberty and equity—can be evaluated and assessed.


Access Equity Rights Prioritisation Elective surgery 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawThe University, ReadingBerkshireUK
  2. 2.Department of Preventive and Social MedicineUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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