Two patients and one ventilator. Study participants were asked to make a choice

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Scientists were interested in what criteria will come to the fore in making a difficult decision. The study involved over five thousand people from eleven states. All of them, hypothetically, had to decide who would get the ventilator. And also explain why.

The dynamics of COVID-19 infection both in Russia and around the world is growing again. One of the dangers of the rapid spread of infection is the depletion of hospital resources. Life-saving supplies, such as ventilators, may not be sufficient for all critical patients in a severe scenario.

In some countries, doctors already had to to work in conditions when the necessary equipment was not enough for normal operation and an inevitable choice arose of who to provide assistance in the first place, and who to “ask to wait”. The need for such decisions has a huge psychological pressure on doctors.

In a new study, scientists from the United States and China asked 5,175 people from 11 countries to “decide” which patients should be prioritized in COVID-19 treatment if resources are scarce. Its results published in Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Participants were presented with 15 possible scenarios in which a choice must be made between two patients who need mechanical ventilation to save lives. For each patient, 10 characteristics were listed, including age, gender, probability of survival, and criminal history.

The results showed that the most significant indicators for people around the world are age and the likelihood of survival. They determined about half of the decisions.

Scientists called this approach of the research participants to solving the problem utilitarian. People seemed to want their solution to be of maximum benefit to society: they “gave the ventilator” to those who can live longer and those who are more likely to survive.

To a lesser extent, but also significantly, the study participants favored their fellow countrymen, as well as those who have never committed crimes, who will potentially spend fewer days on ventilation, as well as those who have infected fewer people and whose treatment will require less public spending. …

The answers also depended on the cultural characteristics of the participants. Thus, the surveyed residents of China attached less importance to the youth of the patients. Americans were more interested in the likelihood of a cure. People who were personally affected by COVID-19 were much less likely to pay attention to the likelihood of survival when making decisions.

“During a pandemic, people’s moral choices can change as they feel more or less at risk about what is happening.” said Yunhui Huang, associate professor at Ohio State University, co-author of the study.

The scientists point out that their research was not intended to influence the decisions that health workers should make. But, in their opinion, it is necessary to know about the opinion of people on this issue.

“We hope that our study will draw attention to vital ethical issues that require global solutions that go beyond political divisions, geographic boundaries and cultural differences,” the authors of the work noted.

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