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Coronavirus crisis: The wrong way to decide which patients get hospital care

At a hospital in New York City, an intensive-care-unit physician faces a terrible dilemma: There are two coronavirus patients in a severe situation, both competing for only one available ICU bed and ventilator. One is a 57-year-old heavy smoker, the other a 72-year-old marathon runner.

Who should get the bed?

Gov. Cuomo has been clear: New York won’t have enough hospital beds, ventilators and other resources to meet our exponentially growing need for treating patients infected by the novel coronavirus. This mirrors problems nationwide. Which means individual health providers will have to wrestle with that dreadful thing: rationing.

For a professional ethicist like me, this is sobering but hardly surprising. We are finite creatures in a world of finite resources. The idea that we are always and everywhere masters of our own fate — and can collectively solve every problem without painful trade-offs — is an illusion. Our coronavirus moment is a dramatic reminder of this.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do our best — and thank God for truly heroic health-care workers on the front lines. Especially given that most know their situation is about to get much worse.

The Italians have already faced the bedeviling moral dilemmas of rationing, and in a guidance to providers, the Italian government has recommended that resources be rationed by age.

According to a translation of the government guidance, age-based rationing is “a way to provide extremely scarce resources to those who have the highest likelihood of survival and could enjoy the largest number of life-years saved.”

Read more at New York Post

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