Resource Allocation and the Duty to Give Reasons
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In a much cited phrase in the famous English ‘Child B’ case, Mr Justice Laws intimated that in life and death cases of scarce resources it is not sufficient for health care decision-makers to ‘toll the bell of tight resources’: they must also explain the system of priorities they are using. Although overturned in the Court of Appeal, the important question remains of the extent to which health-care decision-makers have a duty to give reasons for their decisions. In this paper, I examine the philosophical foundations of the legal obligation to give reasons in English law. Why are judges sometimes supportive of the imposition of a duty to give reasons and sometimes not? What is it about the context of life and death health care allocation problems that makes it unsuitable in their view for such a duty; and is this stance justified? What is it to give a reason for a decision? I examine Frederick Schauer’s account of reason-giving in terms of generalisation and commitment and I suggest that it provides an overstated account of what giving a reason commits one to. I go on to examine an idea of judicial creation: that where value judgements are “inexpressible” there is a strong reason not to impose a duty to give reasons on to public bodies. The strongest case for a duty to give reasons is in terms of the value of respect for citizens. I argue that there is nothing in the very nature of reason-giving that ought to preclude the imposition of such a duty in this context, but concede that there is a serious danger of legalism that could result in a hamstringing of health care decision-making. It is up to judges and lawyers to seek to avoid this danger.