Public health care resource allocation and the rule of rescue

R. Cookson, A. Tsuchiya, C. McCabe

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


In health care, a tension sometimes arises between the injunction to do as much good as possible with scarce resources and the injunction to rescue identifiable individuals in immediate peril, regardless of cost (the "Rule of Rescue". This tension can generate serious ethical and political difficulties for public policy makers faced with making explicit decisions about the public funding of controversial health technologies, such as costly new cancer drugs. In this paper we explore the appropriate role of the Rule of Rescue in public resource allocation decisions. We consider practical approaches to operationalising the Rule of Rescue from Australia and the UK before examining the relevance of individual moral imperatives to public policy making. We conclude that, whilst public policy makers in a humane society should facilitate exceptional departures from a cost effectiveness norm in clinical decisions about identified individuals, it is not so obvious that they should, as a matter of national public policy, except any one group of unidentified individuals within society from the rules of opportunity cost at the expense of all others.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherJournal of Medical Ethics
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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