Hospitals rationing drugs behind closed doors: a civil rights issue

Source: Wendy F. Hensel, Leslie E. Wolf, The Conversation, February 23, 2016

The United States is facing a shortage of prescription drugs, ranging from antibiotics to cancer treatments. These shortages are putting the medical profession in the frequent position of deciding who will get the drugs that are in short supply and, more importantly, who will not. … According to the article, the decision-making process varies considerably across institutions. For instance, in some hospitals formal ethics committees make these decisions. At others, these decisions are made by individual physicians, pharmacists or even drug company executives. And, as the article also reports, patients typically are not told of the shortage and have no idea that their choice of treatment has been limited, even though the decision may delay their recovery, increase their pain or, in some cases, potentially accelerate their death. As legal experts in medical ethics and disability law who have conducted research on the allocation of medical resources, we were struck by the general lack of awareness of the law evident in the article. The fact is, there are civil rights laws and state laws governing informed consent that apply to such decisions, even in times of public health emergencies and medical shortages. These laws constrain physician decision-making and must be taken into account on the front end in making treatment or distribution decisions for all patients and in particular, we would argue, for patients with disabilities….
Related:
Drug Shortages Forcing Hard Decisions on Rationing Treatments
Source: Sheri Fink, New York Times, January 29, 2016

Such shortages are the new normal in American medicine. But the rationing that results has been largely hidden from patients and the public.