Published on: May 19, 2020

With rising numbers of people getting COVID 19 and many dying from them, we could face the situation that Italy did – of not having enough ventilators for everyone whose breathing fails. What would one do, if one had only one ventilator and had to choose between an 85-year-old person with other diseases and a 55 year old?

These are some questions that Dr K K Aggarwal, former National President of IMA, raises in this article: Covid-19 & Critical Care: Ethical Dilemmas 

He recommends a solution that the world has adopted – have triage teams (may be a nurse-doctor team familiar with critical care) assess the patient and advise how successful aggressive life support measures are likely to be. Of course this also needs frequent monitoring and revision of the triage protocol.

It is not a question of whose life is more valuable. It would be clearly wrong to say that age is the only criterion. The life of the 85 year old man could indeed carry great value. The point is that the age and presence of other diseases would reduce the man’s chances of survival dramatically. Subjecting him to aggressive life support would inflict a lot of needless suffering for him, as his dying process is stretched out.