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Age-based health care allocation as a wedge separating the person from the patient and commodifying medicine

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2001

Katrina A Bramstedt
Monash University, Australia and UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA.


Agism in the form of age-based health care allocation fosters the separation of the physiological part of a patient from the person who is the patient. It does so by ignoring the holistic best interests of the patient and instead focuses on providing certain procedures or therapies only when the patient’s age is less than or equal to a specified value (the allocation limit). Certainly not all forms of clinically relevant care and treatment are age-restricted in the scheme of aged-based health care allocation, but it is clear that this scheme functions on the arbitrary, and patients may miss out on optimal therapy presumably because it will be ranked as too expensive or too rare to provide to older people. Arbitrarily chosen age limits or those chosen based upon an estimation of humans’ natural lifespan have the effects of minimizing the patient’s clinical choices, devaluing the experiential skills and knowledge of the medical team, weakening the doctor-patient relationship, and commodifying medicine. Policies of this nature do not solve our current health care dilemma, rather they are an economic bandage over the still present (and unattended to) root cause.

Occasional papers
© 2001 Cambridge University Press

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