Rational decisions: the ethics of rationing in newborn intensive care


  • Prof Dominic Wilkinson

    University of Oxford

Project summary

I will examine the controversial questions that arise in the care of seriously ill infants whose lives might be saved, but only at great expense. Public health systems can’t provide every treatment that parents might want for their child and I will ask if there is a way to fairly decide which infants should be treated. 

I will draw on both medical ethics and medical science and address questions that doctors in newborn intensive care units (NICU) face regularly, such as how expensive is too expensive, how effective does a treatment need to be to justify the cost of treatment, should intensive care treatment be assessed on the same basis as new medicines, and how society should deal with conflicts between parents and doctors about providing treatment. 

The project will aim to help NICU doctors think clearly about the ethical questions involved in rationing treatment, both in wealthy countries and low-income countries. It will provide guidelines for policies relating to costly treatment and for people who have to make these decisions.