Principles of equity and utility in allocating limited resources in pandemics

  • Jocelyne Saint-Arnaud Département de médecine sociale et préventive, École de santé publique de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada
  • Gary Mullins Travailleur autonome, Montreal, Quebec
  • Louise Ringuette Département de médecine sociale et préventive, École de santé publique de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada
Keywords: limited resources, intensive care, ventilators, utility equity, pandemic, COVID-19

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic brings to the forefront the ethical question of allocating scarce resources in terms of access to intensive care and ventilators. The ethical question is: on what ethical principles should we base the triage of patients who will have access to resources when they are insufficient to meet the needs of all? In order to discuss this issue, two historical references for triage are first presented; one is based on an egalitarian principle of meeting individual needs, the other on a principle of social utility. After defining the conditions of equity as procedural equality and adequate response to needs, two types of protocols are examined with a focus on the criteria of equity and utility they advocate. The types of protocols are then compared by presenting their strengths and limitations in responding to population and individual needs. Our analysis highlights the difficulty of reconciling population and clinical objectives in a pandemic situation, while showing that a protocol that uses the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) tool facilitates this reconciliation.

Published
2021-06-01
How to Cite
[1]
Saint-Arnaud J, Mullins G, Ringuette L. Principles of equity and utility in allocating limited resources in pandemics. Can. J. Bioeth. 2021;4:1-14. https://doi.org/10.7202/1077622ar.
Section
Articles