Severity as a priority setting criterion in health care

For any health care system, priority setting is unavoidable. One priority setting criterion that has broad public support is that of prioritizing the worse off or, put differently, prioritizing patients based on severity of illness. However, despite its prominent role in decision making, severity is an undertheorized and contested concept, with an unclear normative rationale.

This PhD project is part of the larger research project Just Severity (JS), funded by the Swedish Research Council. The research team of JS is multidisciplinary and have considerable experience of contributing to the academic field of priority setting.


The aim of the project is to work out a normatively robust conceptualization of severity as a priority setting criterion in health care. This includes:

  • Exploring the issue regarding to what extent premature death adds to severity
  • Exploring if severity should be seen as something that allows interpersonal aggregation
  • Exploring what dimensions should be taken into consideration when assessing severity (the “currency” of severity)
  • Investigating how relevant health care personnel perceive the most promising theoretical notions of severity brought forward in the project


The primary method used in this project will be normative analysis, combined with empirical methods (qualitative interviews).


Adam Ehlert, MA, Doctoral Student


Niklas Juth, Professor of Medical Ethics, Main supervisor

Joar Björk, MD, PhD, Co-supervisor

Karin Schölin Bywall, PhD, Co-Supervisor

Moa Dahlin, JD, Co-Supervisor

Last modified: 2023-10-16