Care, Compassion, or Cost: Redefining the Basis of Treatment in Ethics and Law



There are in two assumptions inherent in this issue's theme, both inimical to the traditional goals of medicine and to the standards of care it proposed. First, the idea that treatment must be limited for some (but not others) on the basis of cost was born in the early literature of bioethics. Second, that there is a quantifiable and diagnostically predictable period at the “end-of-life” where treatment is “futile,” and therefore not worth supporting in a context of scarcity grew out of bioethics's construction of allocative protocols in the 1990s. This paper traces the history of these ideas as constructs grounded in neither natural scarcity nor in firm diagnostic categories. Their relation to issues of care is therefore suspect.