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"We are in a battlefield:" Coronavirus Puts Medical Ethics Front and Center in New York

With New York City now the national epicenter of a pandemic that is straining the capacity and resources of local hospitals, doctors are confronting the ethical dilemma of rationing care. According to Dr. Robert Klitzman, M.D., Academic Director of the M.S. in Bioethics, the conditions effectively put medical professionals in a wartime ethical environment.

“We are on the battlefield. We are in the trenches and in the middle of a war,” Dr. Klitzman said in an April 1 New York Times article

As of April 1, there were more than 47,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in NYC. Faced with a dwindling supply of ventilators—and the responsibility for deciding which patients should receive them—doctors are “increasingly uneasy with treating every patient equally.” 

Although New York State devised a plan for rationing ventilators during a pandemic— which envisions the formation of triage committees, lottery systems, and limits on how long patients can occupy a ventilator—state health officials have yet to provide doctors with formal guidelines for the current situation. 

And, as Dr. Klitzman notes, medical professionals are not adequately prepared for this dire moment: “We have not trained our medical staff to deal with military battlefield medicine and ethics.”

Read the full article and learn more about the M.S. in Bioethics program.