Can clinical ethics committees be legitimate actors in bedside rationing?
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background Rationing and allocation decisions at the clinical level – bedside rationing – entail complex dilemmas that clinicians and managers often find difficult to handle. There is a lack of mechanisms and aids for promoting fair decisions, especially in hard cases. Reports indicate that clinical ethics committees (CECs) sometimes handle cases that involve bedside rationing dilemmas. Can CECs have a legitimate role to play in bedside rationing? Main text Aided by two frameworks for legitimate priority setting, we discuss how CECs can contribute to enhanced epistemic, procedural and political legitimacy in bedside rationing decisions. Drawing on previous work we present brief case vignettes and outline several potential roles that CECs may play, and then discuss whether these might contribute to rationing decisions becoming legitimate. In the process, key prerequisites for such legitimacy are identified. Legitimacy places demands on aspects such as the CEC’s deliberation process, the involvement of stakeholders, transparency of process, the opportunity to appeal decisions, and the competence of CEC members. On these conditions, CECs can help strengthen the legitimacy of some of the rationing decisions clinicians and managers have to make. Conclusions On specified conditions, CECs can have a well-justified advisory role to play in order to enhance the legitimacy of bedside rationing decisions.