Who Gets the Ventilator? Important Legal Rights in a Pandemic

Kathleen Liddell, Jeffrey M. Skopek, Stephanie Palmer, Stevie Martin, Jennifer Anderson, and Andrew Sagar, "Who Gets the Ventilator? Important Legal Rights in a Pandemic" Journal of Medical Ethics (May 2020)

University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 19/2020

14 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2020 Last revised: 15 May 2020

See all articles by Kathleen Liddell

Kathleen Liddell

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Jeffrey M. Skopek

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Stephanie Palmer

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Stevie Martin

Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

Jennifer Anderson

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Andrew Sagar

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 8, 2020

Abstract

At some point during this pandemic or next, all countries will need to answer hard questions about whether and when scarce ICU resources (such as ventilators, beds and staff) should be either withheld or withdrawn from certain groups of patients solely for the purpose of providing them to others. Attempts to answer these hard questions can be found in ICU triage protocols and ethical guidance documents, many of which embrace the foundational principle of ‘save the most lives’. Unfortunately, this worthwhile goal has generated many suggestions that could violate the law. This article identifies 10 ways in which the withholding or withdrawal of a clinically indicated ventilator might violate a patient’s rights, along with recommendations on how to avoid doing so. While our analysis is based on UK law, its lessons are relevant for other countries with similar legal systems. If the issues we identify are not addressed, doctors may act unlawfully. Worse, patients may die unlawfully.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, law, medical law, discrimination law, public law, ventilators, bioethics

JEL Classification: K32, K36, I18

Suggested Citation

Liddell, Kathleen and Skopek, Jeffrey M. and Palmer, Stephanie and Martin, Stevie and Anderson, Jennifer and Sagar, Andrew, Who Gets the Ventilator? Important Legal Rights in a Pandemic (May 8, 2020). Kathleen Liddell, Jeffrey M. Skopek, Stephanie Palmer, Stevie Martin, Jennifer Anderson, and Andrew Sagar, "Who Gets the Ventilator? Important Legal Rights in a Pandemic" Journal of Medical Ethics (May 2020), University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 19/2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3580872 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3580872

Kathleen Liddell (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Jeffrey M. Skopek

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Stephanie Palmer

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Stevie Martin

Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Jennifer Anderson

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Andrew Sagar

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

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