Compassionate Care: Towards a New Ethical Approach for Allocating Healthcare Resources Open Access

Ferry, Lucia (Spring 2023)

Permanent URL:


In a world of finite resources, how do we decide who deserves what in health care? Do we decide to spread the resources amongst people that will create the greatest overall population? Or do we allocate them to those who need it most? Do we concern ourselves with the well-being of the individual patient or society as a whole?

One approach taken by health economists is simply aiming to increase overall population health statistics using efficiency. However, this utilitarian approach does not do enough to recognize humanity as its focus is almost entirely on the numbers. By recognizing the importance of individuals within the system, we can provide individualized care that improves the dignity and respect afforded to patients. However, this cannot be solved by simply prioritizing the absolute duty to each individual patient over all else as Kant would argue since there will always come a point when decisions must be made between the duties to each patient.

Reconciling compassionate, individualized care with the goal of efficiency, the Dalai Lama’s ethics of compassion addresses the shortcomings of the utilitarian and deontological approaches to research allocation. The approach taken by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence aligns with this ethics of compassion since its guidelines first fall back on consequentialism, but in hard cases medical professionals can apply these guidelines based on the individual circumstances of the patient. 

By applying an ethics of compassion, systems can become closer to finding a proper balance between the ‘inconsistent triad’ of cost, quality, and access in healthcare.  The application of the ethics of compassion to decisions regarding resource allocation must be supported by a compassionate healthcare system. With these improved decision-making modes and compassionate systems that similarly aim to respect the dignity of individual patients, healthcare systems can take important steps towards creating an improved sense of justice in healthcare.

Table of Contents


Chapter Overview

Chapter 1: Utilitarianism & Healthcare Economics


Defining Health & Healthcare

Importance of Ethical Guidelines in Making Health Care Decisions

The Role of Priority Setting in Health Care

Health Economics & Utilitarianism

Quality-Adjusted Life Years

The Problems with Quantifying Life using QALYs


Chapter 2: Deontological Ethics & Prioritizing the Duty to the Individual Patient


The Problem of Supply & Demand for Individuals: The Case of Child B

Deontological Ethics & Morality

Duties in Healthcare

The Right to Healthcare

The Doctor-Patient Relationship Individualism & Autonomy Quality Care for All Costs Conclusion

Chapter 3: Towards Solving the Inconsistent Triad of Healthcare

Introduction Access, Quality, and Cost: An Inconsistent Triad

US Healthcare vs. National Health Service

A World of Conflicting Values

A NICE Solution: The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Concerns about NICE Conclusion

Chapter 4: The Ethics of Compassion


The Ethics of Compassion

Compassion & Patient-Centered Care

Efficiency & Patient-Centered Care

The Effects of Compassion on Healthcare Providers

Compassion Training

Implementing Compassion on a Large Scale




The New Models’ Incompatibility with American Healthcare

The Larger Solution: Changing the System

An Attempt at Changing the System: The Affordable Care Act

Systems Affect Individuals


About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files