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CMAJ. 1997 Jul 15;157(2):163-7.

Bioethics for clinicians: 13. Resource allocation.

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  • 1Toronto Hospital, Ont.


Questions of resource allocation can pose practical and ethical dilemmas for clinicians. In the Aristotelian conception of distributive justice, the unequal allocation of a scarce resource may be justified by morally relevant factors such as need or likelihood of benefit. Even using these criteria, it can be difficult to reconcile completing claims to determine which patients should be given priority. To what extent the physician's fiduciary duty toward a patient should supersede the interests of other patients and society as a whole is also a matter of controversy. Although the courts have been reluctant to become involved in allocation decisions in health care, they expect physicians to show allegiance to their patients regardless of budgetary concerns. The allocation of resources on the basis of clinically irrelevant factors such as religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Clear, fair and publicly acceptable institutional and professional policies can help to ensure that resource allocation decisions are transparent and defensible.

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