Faced with tough choices, Italy is prioritizing young COVID-19 patients over the elderly.

Epidemics force medical professionals to make tough choices, including which lives to save first. 

In Italy, where more than 9,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors are prioritizing the young and otherwise healthy patients over the older people who are less likely to recover.

A NYC medical ethicist told Insider the medical community in the US would also have to make decisions about who to prioritize if hospitals become overwhelmed.

Choosing patients simply based on their age, however, “would not fly,” he said.

Faced with tough choices, Italy is prioritizing young COVID-19 patients over the elderly. That likely ‘would not fly’ in the US.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz 18 hours ago

In this Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020 file photo, paramedics work in a tent that was set up outside the hospital of Cremona, northern Italy.
Paramedics in a tent set up outside the hospital of Cremona, Italy, on February 29.
  • Epidemics force medical professionals to make tough choices, including which lives to save first. 
  • In Italy, where more than 9,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors are prioritizing the young and otherwise healthy patients over the older people who are less likely to recover.
  • A NYC medical ethicist told Insider the medical community in the US would also have to make decisions about who to prioritize if hospitals become overwhelmed.
  • Choosing patients simply based on their age, however, “would not fly,” he said.

With the number of coronavirus patients rising every day, the medical community in New York City is discussing what to do if hospitals in the US become overwhelmed. 

In Italy, where more than 9,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, doctors are scrambling to secure resources and treat patients. They have been forced to prioritize the young and otherwise healthy.

“It’s very hard to just prioritize the young over the old. That would not fly in the US,” Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City, told Business Insider. “People would protest the idea that young lives are worth more inherently than older lives.” 

Caplan said hospitals, like NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, have already begun discussing how to ration scarce resources if need be. While there hasn’t yet been a hospital committee meeting that addressed which patients would get priority in treatment, he expects that to come up down the line. 

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