How should we use age to ration health care? Lessons from the case of kidney transplantation

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Oct;58(10):1980-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03031.x. Epub 2010 Sep 9.


Competing visions for health reform in the United States and renewed interest in health technology assessment (HTA) have led to fierce national debates about the appropriateness of rationing. Because of a limited supply of organs, kidney transplantation has always required rationing and overt discussion of the ethics that guide it, but the field of transplantation has also contended recently with internal calls for a new rationing system. The aim of the Life Years from Transplantation (LYFT) proposal is to allocate kidneys to patients who obtain the greatest survival benefit from transplantation, which would lengthen the lives of kidney transplant recipients but restrict the ability of older Americans to obtain a transplant. The debate around the LYFT proposal reveals the ethical and policy challenges of identifying which patients should receive a treatment based on the results of cost-effectiveness and other HTA studies. This article argues that attempts to use HTA for healthcare rationing are likely to disadvantage older patients. Guiding principles to help ensure that resources such as kidneys are justly allocated across the life span are proposed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Government Agencies
  • Health Care Rationing / organization & administration*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Transplantation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United States