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Health Care Rationing and Public Debate

Health Care Rationing and Public Debate

March 18, 2011

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The public was invited to attend a health law and policy lecture entitled Health Care Rationing and Public Debate: Are American Citizens Capable of Making Hard Healthcare Resource Decisions and Should They Be Entrusted with This Weighty Task? The lecture and debate were open to the public and were held March 18, 2011 at 5 p.m. at the University of South Carolina School of Law Auditorium.

This public lecture discussed the difficult problem of the appropriate role of public discourse in health care rationing decisions. It is considered a truism in politics that the American public is not capable of openly discussing how to allocate scarce health care resources. For politicians on either side of the aisle, open participation in this debate is considered political suicide. This truism leaves two questions unanswered. One: Can Americans rise to the occasion and have a sensible, coherent public conversation to define the country's values, decide how much money to spend and decide where to spend it? Two: Even if this public discussion goes badly, is it still the best process for making these hard choices for the future?

The Keynote address was given by Daniel Callahan, the founder of the Hastings Center for Bioethics and one of the leading thinkers on health care rationing for more than 40 years. Following his address, a diverse panel, moderated by Professor Jacqueline Fox, tackled this problem from different perspectives. The panel participants were:

  • Mark Sheehan, a philosopher at Oxford University who also serves on numerous panels in the UK that ration health care on a regular basis.
  • Allan Brett, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of South Carolina and a highly respected bioethicist, who has recently written an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on American values and health care rationing.
  • Elizabeth Weeks, a law professor at the University of Kansas, whose most recent publications are examining the role of the public in the hard decisions being made in health care reform.

An opportunity for public debate followed these presentations. A reception was held following the debate at the Hilton Columbia Center, Presidential Suite, 924 Senate Street, Columbia, SC at 7:30 p.m. For more information, contact Professor Jacqueline R. Fox at 803-777-8192 or foxjr@law.sc.edu.