In the medical field, decisions regarding the life and death of patients are relatively commonplace, however, with the necessary medical resources becoming scarce, doctors are now faced with an overwhelming number of such choices.
The global pandemic, known as COVID-19, has changed many facets of daily life from how we eat, shop, socialize and educate. The most serious effect, however, has been in the medical field.
Hospitals are now overrun with COVID-19 patients and face a quickly diminishing ventilator and personal protection equipment supply. These conditions place immense responsibility upon medical professionals to make the “right” decision, such as dedicating all resources to someone who might have seemingly higher “survivability” than another patient.
The partitioning of crucial supplies such as ventilators is a key component of this ethical turmoil. Hospitals in China and Italy have been withholding ventilators from patients who have a “lower survival rate,” such as the elderly or those with detrimental preexisting conditions, and instead are given to younger patients, according to the New York Times.
The United States has some guidelines in place to deal with situations such as these, however, they may be outdated and unfit for the current situation. Newer policies have been considered in order to avoid the bias against the elderly or those with conditions that lower their chance of survival. One such policy is that of a “lottery” or the random selection of patients to dedicate supplies and personnel towards saving, according to the New York Times.
These controversial decisions have become commonplace in areas of the United States that are hotspots of the coronavirus, such as New York. With 381,019 confirmed cases and 30,066 deaths, according to the New York Times, as of June 5, the state’s medical infrastructure has been pushed to its limits and its doctors and nurses have been working tirelessly to deal with the constant influx of new patients.
The ethical dilemma created by the pandemic has been recognized by the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. In response, Cuomo passed legislation that provided legal immunity to all medical workers for any decisions made while taking care of patients, according to the Wall Street Journal. Normally, the family of deceased patients could sue doctors or nurses over potential malpractice as a cause of death. However, this action now prevents such legal action.
As the virus and its exponential growth curve begin to take root in California, our medical professionals and lawmakers must be prepared in order to keep our people safe and curb the curve.