Ethics Consult: Deny Elderly COVID-19 Patient Ventilator? MD/JD Bangs Gavel

by Gregory Dolin MD, JD: For More Info, Go Here…

ngd- Even the notoriously and moralistically judgemental medical ethics profession sees some limits on killing off disabled people…

Last week, you voted on the ethics of taking an elderly man with COVID-19 off a ventilator in a triage situation. Here are the results from almost 4,000 votes:

Would you prioritize the care of healthier and younger patients and shift the ventilator from the elderly man to patients with a higher probability of recovering?

Yes: 55.65%

No: 44.35%

Would you change your decision if the elderly patient had been in intensive care for a non-COVID-19-related illness?

Yes: 21.89%

No: 78.11%

Would you prioritize the older man over college students who had likely been infected during spring break trips?

Yes: 28.88%

No: 71.12%

And now bioethics scholar Gregory Dolin, MD, JD, weighs in:

Generally speaking, under traditional common law, one is under no obligation to render aid to anyone. (EMTALA has, of course, changed that in certain situations, but the basic principle remains.) However, once a person begins to render aid, he or she must continue to do so. That does not mean that extraordinary or futile actions must be taken; rather, it means that one cannot stop aiding simply because he no longer wants to or thinks that a more “worthy” activity needs to be attended to. Thus, there is a difference between DNR or even withdrawal of futile care and withdrawing care simply because the doctor thinks a newly arrived patient is more “worthy” of it.

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