Medical Ethics PHIL 148 @ Binghamton University, Sum 11


Debate post: Is it moral?

Question: Is it moral for the government or individual hospitals to provide limited resources on a first come, first serve basis?


I don't think it's moral for neither the government nor individual hospitals to provide limited resources on a first come, first serve basis. I think that "first come, first serve" makes the implication that these resources are wants that are to be consumed by the people who are first in line to receive them. Rather, these resources are needs, and there are many people out there who need them. Take, for example, a situation in which there is a special medication that treats the flu in 24 hours, but is limited to 1,000 doses. The flu ranges in severity, as it can be insignificant to some and fatal to others. Some people may want the medication in order to be rid of the flu sooner so that they can finally get out of the house and enjoy the sun. Others may need the medication in order to live another day, as their immune systems are very weak (perhaps they're infants or the elderly) and they are at risk of dying. 2,200 people (600 whose lives are in danger) were seen by various doctors in one day, and 2,200 requests for the medication (all with date, time,  and severity included) were reviewed. Would it seem right for the hospital/government entity (again, this is only an example) to distribute the medication to the 1,000 patients whose times were soonest?


Take a second to consider the kinds of things that are distributed on a first come, first serve basis. A store would sell it's stock of 1,000 iPods to the first 1,000 customers in line. A person selling 50 video games would sell to the first 50 people willing to buy. Should medical resources be on the same level as these things? These are superficial wants, and health care is a need, as it is crucial in living a healthy life. Taking somewhat of a utilitarian perspective, giving these limited medical resources to the first people "in line" wouldn't be a right approach, as there would be people who don't necessarily need the resources as much as others, but receive it anyway. That would surely shorthand many people who would need the resource more than others, and have grim results as opposed to distributing the resources on a needs basis. Even if that needs basis doesn't help everyone with a need (perhaps there are more needy than there are resources), it is a better approach than just handing the resources out to whoever was first to put their hand out.


Where does one's autonomy come into play? It can be argued that the people who are first "in line" for something have a right to it, and I would agree. I would also agree that in some situations, people can have a greater right to something than another. For example, someone who is suffering from a disease has a greater right to specific treatments than someone who thinks they might be at risk of that disease. This should be the norm for all medical resources, including those who are limited. With respect to autonomy, needs should be of greater importance than wants. Please, share your thoughts on how you feel autonomy affects this situation, if at all.


Equality is another thing to be considered in this situation. Surely, working on a needs basis does not allow for equality, as some people are given priority over others. However, the only way to achieve equality in this situation would be to give the resources to all, and that is impossible as the resources are limited. Also, not everyone is on equal standing in terms of health, as some are worse off than others. In situations such as this one, it only makes sense that there is inequality, as there are people who truly need the resources and people who don't really need it.



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