This L.A. Times article explores professional and ethical challenges medical professionals may face in making decisions about who receives scarce resources if COVID-19 cases surge beyond what the health care system can handle.
During a public health emergency, triage decisions about who receives scarce resources may result in denial or withdrawal of life-saving or life-sustaining interventions, such as ventilator support. Rationing of care in response to COVID-19 has occurred in other countries, and such measures are in stark contrast to the more typical U.S. approach to medical care, which frequently includes extensive efforts to prolong the lives of patients with very poor prognoses. This article focuses on the dilemma from the perspective of treating physicians. Ethical guidance on resource allocation during public health emergencies typically recommends that impartial triage officers, rather than treating physicians, make allocation decisions in order to avoid a conflict of interest between a physician’s duty to the patient and the duty to steward resources to protect public health during a crisis. However, triage officers will still be drawn from facility staff, including other physicians.