The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Ethics of Triage, by R. J. Snell

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By R. J. Snell, Ph.D., Culture of Life Foundation, March 26, 2020

R.J. Snell is Director of Academic Programs at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, and Academic Director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Life at Princeton University. He is a Contributing Editor of Public Discourse and serves on the editorial board of Method Journal of Lonergan Studies. He is also Senior Fellow in Ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation and its Institute at Ave María School of Law.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Italy, many hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, necessitating difficult triage decisions that can seem like choosing who lives and who dies. In the United States, already some hospitals and caregivers are overburdened, with expectations that things will soon become even more difficult. Hospitals and health authorities are releasing guidelines on the rationing of ventilators, with those guidelines already under criticism by disability groups and others. And the stress on our health systems is really just beginning—things will likely worsen, perhaps dramatically, in the next days.

Doctors, nurses, and administrators will need to make difficult decisions, possibly with tragic consequences for individual patients. Likewise, some patients and their families may wonder if they should forgo or end treatment, allowing another the use of a scarce ventilator, for example.   …

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