Ethical Dilemma of Fair and Equal Allocation of Medical Resources During Pandemic

Topics: Medical Ethics

CoVid-19 has caught the entire world off-guard. During these trying times, countries continue to fumble, no matter how advanced their healthcare systems are. The news is riddled with figures of people dying, healthcare workers breaking down, and a lot more. While non-essential workers are asked to work from home, those who are considered essential have to go to work and provide their services. The government, policy makers, and healthcare professionals encounter the ethical dilemma of fair and equal allocation of medical resources during this pandemic and that affects how they prioritize who they need to treat, which is also due to the scarcity of medical resources.

Doctors are bound to the Hippocratic Oath when it comes to their medical practice. Nurses, too, have their Nightingale Pledge to guide them as they go about their duties. In normal circumstances, all patients who seek help should be given fair and equal claim for the services, Christian and his associates say (as cited in Melnychuk & Kenny, 2006).

However, in times like these, when there is a pandemic, there are significant effects as to how healthcare services are delivered, as well as their availability. The functioning of health care institutions are also affected (Melnychuk & Kenny, 2006). Supplies and hospital space may be rationed, and people’s movements are limited by the government. Though politicians decide how things go, the decisions made may be affected by medical ethicists as they advise institutions, including governments, as to the best way that they should handle emergencies such as a pandemic (Chotiner, 2020).

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Back in 2005, a Pandemic Influenza Plan was developed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services as a way of modeling the possible effects of influenza pandemics that are moderate or severe in nature. The plan, which was last updated in 2017, suggests that 64 million Americans will be infected in a moderate pandemic, with about 800,000 of those people needing to be hospitalized. However, experts have seen that modeling how CoVid-19 is spreading is challenging. The number of people who will be infected depends on many factors, which includes the current interventions put in place such as social distancing. Experts made a conservative estimate as to the capacity of U.S. hospitals to cater to the health needs of the people during the pandemic: it shows that is beyond the current capacity of the hospitals. As of now, there are just about 62,000 ventilators that are fully equipped to treat those have the most severe complications of the infection. But the bigger picture also includes the number of healthy and trained medical staff who oversee the machines and give critical care in a course of 3 shifts daily. Due to the onslaught of patients, there will also be a scarcity in the therapeutic, diagnostic, and preventive interventions given out by the health institutions. The ethical dilemma as to how these scarce resources will be allocated persists. There is definitely the need to balance various ethical values for the different interventions, given that with the varied circumstances, there will also be different opinions or judgments as to which one bears more weight or value. This is why consistent and fair procedures for the allocation of these services should be done, and it needs to be done together by all those affected: public officials, healthcare professionals, patients, and more. Transparency is key to make the public trust them for being fair (Emanuel et al, 2020).

The main question here is: what constitutes as fair? Fair is defined as, “treating someone in a way that is right or reasonable, or treating a group of people equally and not allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment” (Fair, n.d.). It is true that it is already difficult to pinpoint who should be prioritized to get the necessary interventions, as every life is deemed precious. Healthcare institutions should also consider that not everyone who seeks medical help nowadays is for the treatment of CoVid-19. There are still people who are suffering from chronic conditions, as well as other illnesses that are totally independent of the symptoms related to CoVid-19.

During this pandemic, some experts have come up with some guides to help them with ethical issues such as this. The ethical values that they need to take into consideration are the following: benefit maximization, equal treatment, prioritization of those who are in the worst shape, and promotion and rewarding of instrumental value. In order to allocate for the medical resources better during the pandemic, here are 6 specific suggestions: prioritizing the health workers, maximizing the benefits, being responsive to the evidence laid out, refraining from allocating resources on a first-come, first-served protocol, recognizing the need and participation of research, and applying the same principles in the treatment of all patients (whether they are suffering from Covid-19 or not) (Emanuel et al, 2020).

In this pandemic, it is just right that resources have to be responsibly allocated. The aim of treating patients is like hitting two birds with one stone: saving more lives while maximizing their benefits and improvements after the treatments, and thus, live longer. As for people who think that praising the healthcare workers and other frontliners is overrated and sensationalized- it is not just because they are considered top priority. Frontline healthcare workers and those who give care to the ill are critical in the operations of healthcare infrastructures. Their respective training and knowledge make them hard to replace. If healthcare workers are not cared for during this time, who else will replace them if the situation does not change for the better? Who will care for the sick? They are very important to the overall pandemic response. Prioritization guidelines may change according to the evidence that is present.

It is definitely not an easy task for the authorities and for healthcare professionals to judge who gets to be treated and those who do not. Policy makers and governments have to do everything to prevent their medical resources from getting depleted. If it really comes to that stage, we, the public, have to wish that the ethical guidelines will keep them from making rash and unjust decisions. It is important that the healthcare institutions can be trusted to give equal and fair treatments for everybody who needs to be treated.


  1. Chotiner, I. (2020). The Medical Ethics of the Coronavirus Crisis. The New Yorker.
  2. Emanuel, E. J., Persad, G., Upshur, R., Thome, B., Parker, M., Glickman, A., Zhang, C., Boyle, C., Smith, M., & Phillips, J. (2020). Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the Time of Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine.
  3. Fair. In Cambridge Dictionary.
  4. Melnychuk, R. M., & Kenny, N. P. (2006). Pandemic triage: the ethical challenge. CMAJ, Vol. 175(11), pp. 1393-1394.

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Ethical Dilemma of Fair and Equal Allocation of Medical Resources During Pandemic. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from

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