Scarcity, Rationing, and Death Panels

I have a little to say about the inevitable rationing health care and the power of antecdote, and the appropriateness of that.


One of the fundamental principles in economics is that goods and services are scarce.,,The question is NOT “should things be rationed?” Rather, it is “How should things be rationed?”

This distinction is made clear to us every day, but possibly no more so than in the area of health care.

In other instances, medical care will be rationed by our ability and willingness to pay…

[in the absense of this kind of rationing) And in some instances, death panels composed of persons with medical training (and political connections?) will decide how to ration scarce health resources. 

I have enough trouble with physicians who like to play god as it is. Giving them the ability and power to decide who should receive a heart, a kidney, or a cancer treatment adds to my concerns. 

For example, consider this story [h/t Rebekkah]:

When Kenneth Warden was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer, his hospital consultant sent him home to die, ruling that at 78 he was too old to treat.

Even the palliative surgery or chemotherapy that could have eased his distressing symptoms were declared off-limits because of his age…

Thanks to [his daughter’s] tenacity, Kenneth got the drugs and surgery he needed — and as a result his cancer was actually cured. Four years on, he is a sprightly 82-year-old who works out at the gym, drives a sports car and competes in a rowing team.

city, Rationing, and Death Panels
Sun, 08 Apr 2012 11:42:44 GMT


I agree with the main point here that rationing of a scarce good like health care is inevitable either by ability and willingness to pay or by the decision of some rationing third party.  The anecdote is touching in a child fighting for the parents life.  I’m not sure though that it proves that the decision as made to not pursue care was wrong.  The story is not proof of the  effectiveness of treatment in cases of this types, how often under the same circumstances would the result have been different?  I don’t know, but only mean to caution how much to read from this story.  Furthermore, how many kids might get more basic and less dramatic care but with improved quality of life that is worth as much or more than a costly miracle cure made available to someone who could pay.  Again I don’t know.


One response to “Scarcity, Rationing, and Death Panels

  1. Interesting post.

    I think over the next generation, society will increasingly take on a utilitarian perspective on the availability of health care. For instance in your story, some panel will decide the $50,000 for this 78 year old guy does less for society than putting forth $50,000 in health care for say some young moms who lack insurance or are indigent. Religion will not abide by this, but utilitarian economics will suggest a win-win-win solution: give the family $25,000, the guy dies goes to heaven, and society still has $25,000 to spend somewhere else. Win, Win, Win. Of course the ethics and morality of all this is on very thin ice, but as the baby boomers get much older, I see this type of thing happening in some form. As for myself, I really would not want to be a burden on my family, its finances, you, or society either. This is one tough subject.

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