Philosophical, ethical, and moral aspects of health care rationing: A review of Daniel Callahan's setting limits [Book Review]

My assigned task in today’s colloquium is to review philosophers’ perspectives on the broad question of whether health care rationing ought to target the elderly. This is a revolutionary question, particularly in a society that is so sensitive to apparent discrimination, and the question must be approached carefully if it is to be successfully dealt with. Three subordinate questions attend this one and must be addressed in the course of answering it. The first such question has to do with the issue of justice: how is it fair to target the elderly in achieving reductions in health care costs? Isn’t the proposal, or for that matter, isn’t targeting any age group, morally objectionable as a species of ageism, just as targeting members of a particular race or sex would be racist or sexist? The second subordinate question has to do with the issue of fittingness. Given that we can show in some way that targeting the elderly is not inherently unjust, why would limiting health care to them be a fitting thing for medicine to do? How would it fit, for example, with the traditional commitments of medicine, to sustain life, to relieve suffering, to heal and cure and restore function? And in particular, if medicine has the ability to save and relieve and restore the elderly, why should it replace that set of commitments with a different set for this particular population? The third subordinate question seems political, an arena reserved for one of my speaker colleagues today. There are, I believe, some underlying philosophical dimensions to its answer, and so I will say something about it. The philosophical/political questions is, Given that rationing health care to the elderly is not patently unjust, and given that a case can be made out that the ends of medicine are not violated by such limitation, shy should the elderly, as a group, assent to such a limitation? I want to address these subordinate questions, for I believe them to be the chief stumbling blocks for the possibility of an affirmative answer to our...
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