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Minerva Anestesiologica 2021 December;87(12):1367-79

DOI: 10.23736/S0375-9393.21.15736-0

Copyright © 2021 EDIZIONI MINERVA MEDICA

lingua: Inglese

COVID-19 pandemic in ICU. Limited resources for many patients: approaches and criteria for triaging

Giuseppe R. GRISTINA 1 , Mariassunta PICCINNI 2

1 Italian Society of Anesthesiology, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI), Rome, Italy; 2 Department of Political and Legal Sciences, and International Studies, University of Padua, Padua, Italy



The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the illusion that healthcare resource shortages that require rationing are problems restricted to low- and middle-income countries. During the pandemic surges, many high-income countries have been confronted with unprecedented demands for healthcare systems that dramatically exceeded available resources. Hospitals capacities were overwhelmed, and physicians working in intensive care units (ICUs) were often forced to deny admissions to patients in desperate need of intensive care. To support these difficult decisions, many scientific societies and governmental bodies have developed guidelines on the triage of patients in need of mechanical ventilation and other life-support treatments. The ethical approaches underlying these guidelines were grounded on egalitarian or utilitarian principles. Thus far, however, consensus on the approaches used, and, above all, on the solutions adopted have been limited, giving rise to a clash of opinions that has further complicated health professionals’ ability to respond optimally to their patients’ needs. As the COVID-19 crisis moves toward a phase of what some have called “pandemic normalcy,” the need to debate the merits and demerits of the individual decisions made in the allocation of ICU resources seems less pressing. Instead, the aims of the authors are: 1) to critically review the approaches and criteria used for triaging patients to be admitted in ICU; 2) to clarify how macro- and micro-allocation choices, in their interdependance, can condition decision-making processes regarding the care of individual patients; 3) to reflect on the need for decision-makers and professionals working in ICUs to maintain a proper degree of “honesty” towards citizens and patients regarding the causes of the resource shortages and the decision-making processes, which, in different ways routinely and in crisis times, involve the need to make “tragic choices” at both levels.


KEY WORDS: Intensive Care Units; COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Health care rationing; Triage

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