Robin hoods and good samaritans: The role of patients in health care distribution


There are good reasons — both medical and moral — for wanting to redistribute health care resources, and American hospitals and physicians are already involved in the practice of redistribution. However, such redistribution compromises both patient autonomy and the fiduciary relationship essential to medicine. These important values would be most completely preserved by a system in which patients themselves would be the agents of redistribution, by sharing their medical resources. Consequently, we should see whether patients would be willing to share before we resort to surreptitiously redistributing their resources or denying medical care to some who want and need it. We should change our health care payments systems to allow patients to donate their medical benefits to those in need.

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John Hardwig
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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