Who should get a chance to survive when the number of severely ill people far exceeds the resources needed to treat them all?
The draft plans vary. In some states, patients with Do Not Resuscitate orders, the elderly, those requiring dialysis, or those with severe neurological impairment would be refused ventilators, or admission to hospitals. Utah divides epidemics into phases. Initially, hospitals would apply triage rules to residents of mental institutions, nursing homes, prisons and facilities for the “handicapped.” If an epidemic worsened, the rules would apply to the general population.
Federal officials say the possibility that America’s already crowded intensive care units would be overwhelmed in the coming weeks by flu patients is small but they remain vigilant.
The triage plans have attracted little publicity. New York, for example, released its draft guidelines in 2007, offered a 45-day comment period, and has made no changes since. The Health Department made 90 pages of public comments public this week only after receiving a request under the state’s public records laws.
Mary Buckley-Davis, a respiratory therapist with 30 years experience, wrote to officials in 2007 that “there will be rioting in the streets” if hospitals begin disconnecting ventilators. “There won’t be enough public relations spin or appropriate media coverage in the world” to calm the family of a patient “terminally weaned” from a ventilator, she said.
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