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Which newborn infants are too expensive to treat? Camosy and rationing in intensive care


Are there some newborn infants whose short- and long-term care costs are so great that treatment should not be provided and they should be allowed to die? Public discourse and academic debate about the ethics of newborn intensive care has often shied away from this question. There has been enough ink spilt over whether or when for the infant's sake it might be better not to provide life-saving treatment. The further question of not saving infants because of inadequate resources has seemed too difficult, too controversial, or perhaps too outrageous to even consider. However, Roman Catholic ethicist Charles Camosy has recently challenged this, arguing that costs should be a primary consideration in decision-making in neonatal intensive care.

In the first part of this paper I will outline and critique Camosy's central argument, which he calls the ‘social quality of life (sQOL)’ model. Although there are some conceptual problems with the way the argument is presented, even those who do not share Camosy's Catholic background have good reason to accept his key point that resources should be considered in intensive care treatment decisions for all patients. In the second part of the paper, I explore the ways in which we might identify which infants are too expensive to treat. I argue that both traditional personal ‘quality of life’ and Camosy's ‘sQOL’ should factor into these decisions, and I outline two practical proposals.

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