This report provides data from a recent survey of U.S. adults. Among other findings, respondents were almost evenly divided on the question of ventilator allocation, with 50% favoring priority for patients who are most in need at the moment and 45% favoring priority for patients who doctors think are most likely to recover with treatment.
Among U.S. adults, 50% preferred need-based allocation, agreeing that if ventilators are in short supply, priority should be given “to patients who are most in need in the moment, which may mean fewer people overall survive, but doctors do not deny treatment based on age or health status.” In comparison, 45% preferred survivability-based allocation, agreeing that priority should given to “patients who are most likely to recover with treatment, which may mean more people survive, but that some patients don’t receive treatment because they are older or sicker.”
These findings are notable in relation to guidelines developed in many states and by other groups that address allocation of scarce resources during a public health emergency. Most of these guidelines recommend priority for patients who are most likely to survive with treatment, with the goal of saving the most lives with available resources. This approach is more closely related to that favored by a large but minority proportion (45%) of respondents. However, partially in response to challenges from advocacy groups, some state guidelines have been modified to remove categorical exclusionary criteria based on age or health status.
Views differed by race/ethnicity, age, income, political party affiliation, and religious tradition. Priority based on survivability was favored by a majority of those who were younger (58% of those 18-29; 50% of those 30-49), upper income (52%), or religiously unaffiliated (56%).
The Pew Research Center survey is based on responses from a nationally representative panel of U.S. adults surveyed between April 7 and April 12, 2020. The survey also asks about concerns about contracting COVID-19, concerns about unknowingly spreading the disease to others, and whether the respondent personally knows someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19.