Deborah Hellman and Kate Nicholson’s “Rationing Disability” is a skillfully integrated analysis of the legal and ethical challenges of avoiding disability discrimination in setting priorities for the allocation of scarce lifesaving resources. Their analysis goes beyond the important but narrow question of what it means to wrongfully discriminate against people with disabilities in this context to the broader question of how to find a principled compromise between the consequentialist goals of public health and the potentially conflicting public value of “equal concern and respect” for each person. I will focus on this broader issue.
I agree with much of their analysis, as well as with their conclusion that the “reserve approach” offers both a principled and practical compromise between these deeply embedded values. And until their article made me rethink the issue, I agreed with the authors that the “probability of survival” (PS) and “resource intensity” (RI) principles they see as presenting close calls were equally consequentialist, relying to the same extent on the tenacious appeal of the imperative to save the most lives when all cannot be saved.