Balancing Patient and Societal Interests in Decisions About Potentially Life-Sustaining Treatment: An Australian Policy Analysis
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 17(3), 407-421, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-09994-7
26 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2020
Date Written: September 22, 2020
Background: This paper investigates the content of Australian policies that address withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatment to analyze the guidance they provide to doctors about the allocation of resources.
Methods: All publicly available non-institutional policies on withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment were identified, including codes of conduct, and government and professional organization guidelines. The policies that referred to resource allocation were isolated and analyzed using qualitative thematic analysis. Eight Australian policies addressed both withholding and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment and resource allocation.
Results: Four resource-related themes were identified: 1) doctors’ ethical duties to consider resource allocation; 2) balancing ethical obligations to patient and society; 3) fair process and transparent resource allocation; and 4) legal guidance on distributive justice as a rationale to limit life-sustaining treatment.
Conclusion: Of the policies that addressed resource allocation, this review found broad agreement about the existence of doctors’ duties to consider the stewardship of scarce resources in decision making. There was disparity in the guidance about how to reconcile competing duties to patient and society. There is a need to better address the difficult and confronting issue of the role of resources in decisions about life-sustaining treatment.
Keywords: medical futility, end-of-life care, clinical decision-making, healthcare rationing, resource allocation, public health policy
JEL Classification: I1, I10, I18, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation