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Should age based rationing of health care be illegal?

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 20 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1379
  1. Michael Rivlin, PhD candidate, department of philosophy
  1. University of Leeds

    Age based rationing of health care is part of daily life in the NHS. As Graham Sutton writes, “Ageism seems to be embedded in the NHS culture” (BMJ 1997;315:1032-3). I have argued elsewhere that the concept is morally indefensible (BMJ 1995;310:1179-82). My suggestion is that it should now be made illegal. It might be thought impractical to involve the law. However, the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1975 Disability Discrimination Act have made discrimination illegal in other areas, and it should be possible to take a similar statutory approach to protect the healthcare requirements of elderly people.

    The legislation … would not result in elderly patients being given treatment that was of no benefit

    Under the terms of the 1976 Race Relations Act, “A person discriminates directly against another in any circumstances relevant for the provision of the Race Relations Act 1976 if on racial grounds he treats that other less favourably than he treats or would …

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