How would you ration health care?

Feb 5 2009 7:00 pm
Feb 5 2009 10:00 pm

Karen Gervais, Professor of Ethics at St. Olaf College and Director, Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics will lead a discussion, February 5 at 7 pm at St. John’s Hall, on the preliminary report for the Minnesota Pandemic Ethics Project.  This discussion sponsored by St. Johns Lutheran Church Peace and Justice Group is free and open to the public.  All interested individuals are invited.

The focus of the discussion will be on the ethics of how to ration health care in a time of very limited supply. yes">  Dr. Gervais will focus on one resource discussed within the report, antivirals medications. The frameworks developed by this project group have applications to other aspects of Health Care where limited resources are available and the demand exceeds supply.  

The draft report, released in late October, is the collaboration of the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics and the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics.  It is being funded by the Minnesota Department of Health.  

The study is in response to “experts’ warnings that a worldwide outbreak of a respiratory virus is inevitable…..Severe pandemics raise unique and particularly difficult challenges, so it is prudent to prepare and plan for one.”

“Unlike other disasters, states and communities cannot count on receiving federal assistance in a severe pandemic. yes">  Health-related resources will be particularly important public health tools, and must be managed and distributed to best serve Minnesotans’ common good.”   Recognizing that supplies will be limited, the preliminary report contains “the proposed ethical frameworks for rationing antiviral medications, N95 respirators, surgical masks, vaccines and mechanical ventilators.”

 Consideration of the topic raises many important questions and ethical issues:

  • Should some individuals and some groups have prioritized access to certain resources:  If so, why? 
  • Should resources like vaccines go to those at greatest risk of dying from the flu even if they may not respond as well to vaccines as others? 
  • Should resources be used to protect persons who are taking risks to help others, because they are contributing to everyone’s survival – whether they are irreplaceable workers at a power plant, health care workers caring for flu victims, or volunteers delivering Meals on Wheels?
  • Should resources be given first to children, because they cannot fend for themselves, they are society’s future, and society is responsible for their welfare?
  • Should patients be removed from ventilators so that others more likely to benefit can be given a chance at survival?

Ethical guidance is needed to help answer such wrenching questions. 

Come add your input to this public discussion, the first of many planned around the state.

For an electronic copy of the entire report, contact Charlotte Carlson at