Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Three pitfalls of accountable healthcare rationing


A pandemic may cause a sudden imbalance between available medical resources and medical needs where fundamental care to a patient cannot be delivered. Inability to fulfil a professional commitment to deliver care as needed can lead to distress among caregivers and patients. This distress is sometimes alleviated through mechanisms that hide the facts that care is rationed and not all medical needs are met. We have identified three mechanisms that jeopardise accountable and optimal allocation of resources: (1) hidden value judgements that allow rationing under the disguise of triage or prioritisation, (2) disguised conflict of interest between societal and individual patient’s needs and (3) concealed biases in the application of medical tools. Under these three pitfalls decisions of resource allocation and who gets treated are handled as medical decisions: normative decisions are concealed and perceived as falling with the realm of medical judgement. Value judgements and moral agency are hidden to offer a ‘false sense of medical judgement’, while in fact there are several ethical judgements and biases at stake. The three pitfalls entail hidden normative deliberation and are inappropriate for sustainable healthcare delivery and resource allocation. We believe it is necessary to maintain transparency in decision making under conditions of insufficient resources to maintain trust in professional care givers and secure fair treatment allocation. Recognition of the pitfalls, by applying our recommendations, may help to ensure transparent and accountable distribution of care and contribute to public acceptance of the ethics behind rationing.

  • end-of-life
  • health care economics
  • right to healthcare
  • resource allocation
  • moral psychology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.