The ethics and reality of rationing in medicine

Chest. 2011 Dec;140(6):1625-1632. doi: 10.1378/chest.11-0622.


Rationing is the allocation of scarce resources, which in health care necessarily entails withholding potentially beneficial treatments from some individuals. Rationing is unavoidable because need is limitless and resources are not. How rationing occurs is important because it not only affects individual lives but also expresses society's most important values. This article discusses the following topics: (1) the inevitability of rationing of social goods, including medical care; (2) types of rationing; (3) ethical principles and procedures for fair allocation; and (4) whether rationing ICU care to those near the end of life would result in substantial cost savings.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Medicine / economics
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Resource Allocation / ethics
  • Social Justice*
  • United States