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With an anticipated shortage of ventilators for patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), hospitals, physicians, and nurses may have to make an unprecedented decision: should they withdraw or withhold ventilators from some patients and use them for other patients who have a better chance of survival? It is not uncommon for care teams to decide against initiating or continuing mechanical ventilation when such treatment would not achieve a patient’s goals or directives. COVID-19 presents a different case: patients who do not receive a ventilator could benefit, perhaps living for many additional years, if they receive short-term mechanical ventilation. Denying patients such treatment, against their wishes, most likely will result in their death, but it will also make this scarce resource available to other patients who are more likely to survive if they receive ventilator support.
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Cohen IG, Crespo AM, White DB. Potential Legal Liability for Withdrawing or Withholding Ventilators During COVID-19: Assessing the Risks and Identifying Needed Reforms. JAMA. 2020;323(19):1901–1902. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.5442
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