Which features of patients are morally relevant in ventilator triage? A survey of the UK public.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Background

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many health systems, including those in the UK, developed triage guidelines to manage severe shortages of ventilators. At present, there is an insufficient understanding of how the public views these guidelines, and little evidence on which features of a patient the public believe should and should not be considered in ventilator triage.

Methods

Two surveys were conducted with representative UK samples. In the first survey, 525 participants were asked in an open-ended format to provide features they thought should and should not be considered in allocating ventilators for COVID-19 patients when not enough ventilators are available. In the second survey, 505 participants were presented with 30 features identified from the first study, and were asked if these features should count in favour of a patient with the feature getting a ventilator, count against the patient, or neither. Statistical tests were conducted to determine if a feature was generally considered by participants as morally relevant and whether its mean was non-neutral.

Results

In Survey 1, the features of a patient most frequently cited as being morally relevant to determining who would receive access to ventilators were age, general health, prospect of recovery, having dependents, and the severity of COVID symptoms. The features most frequently cited as being morally irrelevant to determining who would receive access to ventilators are race, gender, economic status, religion, social status, age, sexual orientation, and career. In Survey 2, the top three features that participants thought should count in favour of receiving a ventilator were pregnancy, having a chance of dying soon, and having waited for a long time. The top three features that participants thought should count against a patient receiving a ventilator were having committed violent crimes in the past, having unnecessarily engaged in activities with a high risk of COVID-19 infection, and a low chance of survival.

Conclusions

The public generally agreed with existing UK guidelines that allocate ventilators according to medical benefits and that aim to avoid discrimination based on demographic features such as race and gender. However, many participants expressed potentially non-utilitarian concerns, such as inclining to deprioritise ventilator allocation to those who had a criminal history or who contracted the virus by needlessly engaging in high-risk activities.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Chan, L; Schaich Borg, J; Conitzer, V; Wilkinson, D; Savulescu, J; Zohny, H; Sinnott-Armstrong, W

Published Date

  • March 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 23 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 33 -

PubMed ID

  • 35337310

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8956145

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1472-6939

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1472-6939

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1186/s12910-022-00773-0

Language

  • eng