Public Invited to Weigh in on Toughest Medical Ethics Decisions

Doctor in patient's room with clipboard
Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, health care providers at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans faced a grim choice: in the midst of a crisis, who among their patients should be evacuated to better conditions? For many in the general public, news coverage (and later a book) about what happened at Memorial was the first time they truly became aware of medical rationing. The first article in a new collaboration between the New York Times and Radio Lab, "Playing God," describes an unusual public debate on the subject being led by Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Daugherty Biddison is leading a task force that will "make recommendations for [Maryland] state officials that could serve as a national model." She and her team are holding a series of public forums to hear opinions from laypeople on topics like: should a doctor be able to remove one person from a ventilator to give it to another with a better chance of surviving? During cancer drug shortages, how should doctors choose which patients receive them? Should such decisions be randomized, through a lottery, or based on a patient's age or likelihood of survival? Renowned bioethicist Ruth Faden of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics praised the effort, noting “It’s a novel and important attempt to turn extremely complicated core ethical considerations into something people can make sense of and struggle with in ordinary language.”