UPDATED 12:53 PM PT — Thursday, March 26, 2020
As hospitals brace for the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic to hit their facilities, some have considered limiting their lifesaving policies, in hopes of saving the most lives at the end of the day.
According to new reports, hospitals in cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have contemplated implementing a universal ‘do not resuscitate’ policy for coronavirus patients who stop breathing, regardless of the patient’s or family’s wishes.
At the center of the hospitals’ argument for the policy is the projection of a critical shortage of medical supplies, which protect doctors and nurses from catching the virus while they perform CPR on infected patients. Staff members have said supplies used in these procedures, like personal protective equipment and face masks, are already being strained.
“We’re doing things we wouldn’t normally do. We’re reusing things like M95 masks, we’re reusing different kinds of face shields and goggles, decontaminating between uses and storing them. They’re really not designed to do that.” – Howard Greller, emergency medicine physician
Hospitals fear that a shortage of necessary gear could lead medical staffers to inadvertently spread the virus to other patients, staff members and their families at home.
“Most people who go into healthcare do it because they want to help people,” explained emergency medicine physician Kari Scantlebury. “I think right now, the stress that healthcare providers are facing is kind of multifaceted.”
Facilities that have seriously considered the measure include Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, which has asked the Illinois governor to clarify whether state law would allow the policy. George Washington University Hospital in D.C. has also examined the policy after it previously modified its COVID-19 life-saving procedures.
The University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle has also made changes to its resuscitation procedures, which now mandate that only a small number of staffers can try to save a dying coronavirus patient.
Despite support among some in the healthcare community, others claimed the policy would pose serious ethical concerns and doesn’t appear to be a realistic solution.
“You go to war with the army you have. We have limited medications, limited solutions and limited people. If you can’t get to all the patients who are dying, you sacrifice all your good doctors and nurses, they’re no longer healthy to take care of others. I can see this being a theoretical option, (but) in practice I just don’t see it. It’s not going to happen.” – Mehmet Oz, cardiac surgeon