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Med Care. 2010 Sep;48(9):821-6. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3181e577fb.

The role of ethics committees and ethics consultation in allocation decisions: a 4-stage process.

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Institute for History, Ethics, and Philosophy of Medicine, Centre of Public Health and Healthcare, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.



Decisions about the allocation and rationing of medical interventions likely occur in all health care systems worldwide. So far very little attention has been given to the question of what role ethics consultation and ethics committees could or should play in questions of allocation at the hospital level.


This article argues for the need for ethics consultation in rationing decisions using empirical data about the status quo and the inherent nature of bedside rationing. Subsequently, it introduces a 4-stage process for establishing and conducting ethics consultation in rationing questions with systematic reference to core elements of procedural justice.


Qualitative and quantitative findings show a significant demand for ethics consultation expressed directly by doctors, as well as additional indirect evidence of such a need as indicated by ethically challenging circumstances of inconsistent and structurally disadvantaging rationing decisions. To address this need, we suggest 4 stages for establishing and conducting ethics consultation in rationing questions we recommend: (1) training, (2) identifying actual scarcity-related problems at clinics, (3) supporting decision-making, and (4) evaluation.


This process of ethics consultation regarding rationing decisions would facilitate the achievement of several practical goals: (i) encouragement of an awareness and understanding of ethical problems in bedside rationing, (ii) encouragement of achieving efficiency along with rationing, (iii) reinforcement of consistency in inter- and intraindividual decision-making, (iv) encouragement of explicit reflection and justification of the prioritization criteria taken into consideration, (v) improvement in internal (in-house) and external transparency, and (vi) prevention of the misuse of the corresponding consulting structures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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