Scarce resources allocation in the COVID-19 outbreak: Extraordinary framework, ordinary criteria

By Chiara Mannelli.

After initially emerging in China, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has advanced rapidly. The World Health Organization has declared it a pandemic, with Europe becoming its new epicenter. Demand for critical care currently exceeds its supply, raising significant ethical concerns, among which is the allocation of scarce resources. Professionals are considering the prioritization of patients most likely to survive over those with remote chances, and this news has triggered an intense debate about the right of every individual to access healthcare.

Europe is living an unprecedented emergency at a clinical, humanitarian, ethical, and financial level. Within this framework, the implications of scarce resources allocation are devastating to cope with. Yet the unfamiliarity of this outbreak should not disorient our historical perspective, and the framework by which prioritization criteria for scarce resources allocation are currently being enforced should not lead us to perceive them as something new. Prioritization criteria reflect established practices that have long regulated the distribution of finite resources when demand exceed supply. Organs are examples of contemporary lifesaving scarce resources: every day, patients on waiting lists for transplants experience the unfortunate effects of prioritization criteria for allocation.

The uniqueness of this outbreak lies in the extraordinarily high number of individuals likely to be impacted by allocation criteria: the effects of prioritization are now being experienced by an entire nation rather than by a finite group of people, such as in the case of patients, and their families, awaiting organ transplants.

When resources are not enough to save all those in need, prioritization involves allocating resources such that they are more likely to save the most lives.

We all logically understand that when resources are not enough for everybody – cruel though this is – not everyone can be saved. This is something we already know – we just try to forget about it.

Paper title: Scarce Resources Allocation in the COVID-19 Outbreak

Author(s): Chiara Mannelli

Affiliations:  Candiolo Cancer Institute, FPO-IRCCS; University of Turin

Competing interests: None

Social media accounts of post author(s): Facebook: Chiara Ma

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