The role of the physician in the allocation of health care resources has come under renewed scrutiny in recent years. Doctors have always had to face the reality of scarce resources and to do their work in the context of social injustices. With the advent of Medicare and Medicaid came the rhetoric of universal access and the “right to health care.” At the same time the field of bioethics was emerging and contributing ideas about other kinds of rights, such as the right to die with dignity. Physicians during this time did not see their role as that of gatekeeper, but rather as advocate for the best care for each individual patient. The 1980s has brought a new awareness of limited resources and the necessity for a rationale for allocation of resources. These social and professional shifts have confronted physicians with the need for yet another shift in their ethical stance. If they are to take part in allocation decisions, for the continued well-being of their patients and of the public health, they will need a new perspective on biomedical ethics. This role can be an ethical one for physicians providing certain criteria are met: (1) there must be universal access to a basic minimum level of care, (2) physicians' levels of income must not be directly related to treatment choices, (3) there must be a closed financial system within which meaningful trade-offs can be made, and (4) there must be an ethically acceptable framework for decision-making.

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