Illustrative image for Life-Years and Rationing in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Critical Analysis

Hastings Center Report

Life-Years and Rationing in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Critical Analysis

Abstract: Prominent bioethicists have promoted the preservation of life-years as a rationing strategy in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the philosophical justification for maximizing life-years is underdeveloped and has a complex history that is not reflected in recent literature. In this article, we offer a critical investigation of the use of life-years, arguing that evidence of public support for the life-years approach is thin and that organ transplantation protocols (heavily cited in pandemic-response protocols) do not provide a precedent for seeking to save the most life-years. We point out that many state emergency-response plans ultimately rejected or severely attenuated the meaning of saving the most life-years, and we argue that  philosophical arguments in support of rationing by life-years are remarkably wanting. We conclude by offering a fair alternative that adheres to the standard duties of beneficence, respect for persons, and justice.

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