Expensive life-extending treatments

Background Paper

Published 13/05/2015

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The author was commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to write this paper in order to inform the Council’s discussions about possible future work on this topic. The paper is intended to provide an overview of key clinical, ethical, social, legal and policy issues, but is not intended to offer any conclusions or recommendations regarding future policy and practice. Any views expressed in the paper are the author’s own and not those of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.


Christopher Wareham, European School of Molecular Medicine and the University of Milan


This paper focuses on the implications of extremely expensive biomedical technologies and treatments that may extend the lives of people with incurable diseases.

The paper begins by outlining methods of allocating resources to life-extending technologies in the UK, and the controversy about hyper-expensive treatments to which these methods have contributed. Thereafter it examines ethical concerns about the value of life, the fair distribution of life-extending drugs, and the role of social values in decisions about resource allocation. This is followed by a discussion of pertinent economic and legal concerns. The final section discusses implications for research funding.