As COVID-19 spreads rapidly through the United States, many American doctors could soon be making the decisions that overwhelmed health care workers in Italy are already facing: Which patients get life-saving treatment and which ones do not?
Every accredited hospital in the U.S. is required to have some mechanism for addressing ethical issues like this — typically, an ethics committee made up of not just medical professionals, but often also social workers, pastors and patient advocates. Sometimes in partnership with hospital triage committees, they create guidelines for prioritizing patient care if there’s a resource shortage.
As the number of coronavirus cases rises in the U.S., hospitals have a new urgency in revisiting and updating those guidelines.
They vary from hospital to hospital, but their overall goal is usually to save the most lives.