HKS Affiliated Authors

Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, HBS


2020, Paper. "The COVID-19 crisis has forced healthcare professionals to make tragic decisions concerning which patients to save. A utilitarian principle favors allocating scarce resources such as ventilators toward younger patients, as this is expected to save more life-years. Some view this as ageist, instead favoring age-neutral principles, such as “first come, first served”. Which approach is fairer? Veil-of-ignorance reasoning is a decision procedure designed to produce fair outcomes. Here we apply veil-of-ignorance reasoning to the COVID-19 ventilator dilemma, asking participants which policy they would prefer if they did not know whether they are younger or older. Two studies (pre-registered; online samples; Study 1, N=414; replication, N=1,276) show that veil-of-ignorance reasoning shifts preferences toward saving younger patients. The effect on older participants is dramatic, reversing their opposition toward favoring the young. These findings provide concrete guidance to healthcare policymakers and frontline personnel charged with allocating scarce medical resources during times of crisis."

Additional Harvard Author (Non-HKS): Joshua Greene