The Journal of Clinical Ethics




A Protocol and Ethical Framework for the Distribution of Rationed Chemotherapy

Andrew Hantel

The Journal of Clinical Ethics 25, no. 2 (Summer 2014): 102-15.



        Shortages of generic, injectable chemotherapeutics have been increasing in prevalence since 2006. Due to the lack of access to first-line, lifesaving treatments, physicians have been forced to ration chemotherapy between patients. Although the scarcity has been managed with good intentions, it has been done in an ad hoc manner, without the benefit of an ethically grounded and standardized schema. Using an approach based on the “accountability for reasonableness” method by Daniel and Sabin, I establish a framework and protocol for rationing that is specific to chemotherapy. Prior to the state of true shortage, I present guidelines for the use of an adequate supply of chemotherapy with knowledge of upcoming scarcity. Within the rationing framework itself, I first prioritize emergency use of chemotherapeutics and those already receiving treatment at the time of shortage. I advocate for stratifying patients based on the prognostic indicators of their cancer type, using a combination of clinical-trial-based initial response and longer term survival, followed by the patients’ line of treatment. All patients who are not able to receive their “best” treatment must receive a sequent, next-best treatment, and their treatment team must have the ability to appeal to a rationing committee in special circumstances. I reject the ideas of stratification based on the intention of the treatment, perceived quality of life, pre-existing condition not impacting performance status, the classical “sickest first” argument, and giving preference to pediatric cases. Lastly, I advocate for any system of rationing to be transparent to those it affects and acknowledge the difficulties it presents to patients and physicians alike.


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