Alexandria Hires Ethicist to Decide Cuts  

Posted by Rob Barton in , , , ,

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Alexandria policymakers are finding it hard to make the tough decisions that must be made when budget cuts are unavoidable. Property values in the area have dropped, leaving a sizeable hole in the city budget. Their solution? Pay an ethicist $9,000 a year to make the decisions for them.

Faced with painful choices about who will suffer most from looming budget cuts, Alexandria officials have taken the unusual step of paying a professional ethicist to help them grapple with the moral issues involved.

Michael A. Gillette is an ethicist who works for area hospitals helping them make decisions about patient care, but he has taken a part time job making decisions for the leaders of Alexandria as to who should and who should not bear the brunt of budget cuts. He has proposed things like turning apartments initially being built for the mentally ill into temporary homes for the disabled.

"If the limb comes off, at least you saved the life. That's what true scarcity feels like," said Gillette, a Lynchburg, Va., City Council member who often uses the battlefield clarity of old "M*A*S*H" episodes to goad his listeners.

First of all, shame on the "leaders" of Alexandria. They were appointed/elected specifically to make the kinds of decisions that they are now pawning off on Gillette. Politicians today are not capable of making really tough decisions because they feel they will not get re-elected if they take services away from their constituency. So they hire an ethicist to make the decision. Now the onus is on the ethicist, and the politicians continue collecting a check for the work that they farm out. Ethical? I think we should ask Mr. Gillette.

In Alexandria, social service officials first began seeking Gillette's advice on clinical quandaries, which represent the bulk of his work. But over time, especially since the weakening real estate market stung the city last year, money questions have gained urgency. They now pay him a $9,000 annual consulting fee.

Second, shame on Mr. Gillette. What kind of ethicist takes money from an already failing economy to do a job that someone else was already paid to do? Even kids in elementary school know that it is unethical to give someone else the answers to the test.


For one thing, politicians didn't hire Michael Gillette, mental health services providers did. They didn't pay him $9,000 to make decisions for them, but to provide many different ethics trainings over the course of a year to a staff of 350. No one pawned off decisions on Michael Gillette, but asked his help in developing policy guidelines to ensure that those budget cuts ($2.5 million estimated) just from the Department of Mental Health are made in a fair and justifiable manner.

"In Alexandria, social service officials first began seeking Gillette's advice on clinical quandaries...Although it's common for public hospitals to hire ethicists to help make difficult patient-care decisions, it is unusual for local officials to seek their advice on budget matters."

I think someone like Gilette is important when dealing with matters of patient care. As I stated in the post, though, he should not be making budget decisions. That is up to the city officials.

Thanks for the reply.

It seems from the media most people think that the ethicist makes the decisions. He does not. He is like real time software to guide people through priorities. No one person can or should make these decisions. Also they have to be made quickly and legally. Better to spend time on making defensible cuts rather than time on legal fees and public outcry.

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