Bioethics Blogs

Taking Care of Nana

According to the Center for Disease Control, the United States has reached an unprecedented time in its history: Americans aged 65 years or older will double in the next 25 years to over 72 million of the US population, accounting for roughly 20% of said population by 2030.[1] As Americans age the cost of medical and health care continues to rise.[2] Coupled with this is the reality that medical resources are not infinite.

An aging population and limited medical resources has led to ethical questions surrounding the care of individuals. How do we decide who gets the liver, dialysis, or the last ICU bed? More specifically, how do we care for an aging population that drains our health resources and financial stability?

Allocating medical resources is predominantly filtered through utilitarianism, an ethical theory that works from the principle of utility; one must choose that which produces the maximal balance of good over bad. Regarding this theory: “It is often formulated as a requirement to do the greatest good for the greatest number, as determined from an impartial perspective that gives equal weight to the legitimate interests of each effected party.”[3] In relationship to medical needs, utilitarianism seeks to maximize the outcome of health care while minimizing its cost.[4]  

This ethical framework has had a direct impact on aging men and women in the US. Various utilitarian theories have held that older people should receive limited medical or health-care resources due to their perceived limited productivity, long term benefit to society, or the fairness of treating them at the expense of the young.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.