There is one ventilator, two people.

The first person is a 12-year-old with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The second person is 74 years old and has COVID-19, too, but he’s an infectious diseases doctor and an expert in vaccine development.

Neither is breathing very well, and the window to choose who gets the machine, which mechanically helps patients struggling to breathe, is closing quickly. Unlike other forms of treatment, experts note, “the decision about initiating or terminating mechanical ventilation is often truly a life-or-death choice.”

So, says Timothy Christie, a medical ethicist, you have the 12-year-old, the 74-year-old and a choice:

“One is going to live and one is going to die.”

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Who do you save?


Save the child or save the doctor is the first scenario that Christie, regional director of ethics services for Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick, will put to the network’s ethics board this week.

He’s writing a discussion paper outlining different scenarios, which the board will discuss at length. What they decide will become policy should New Brunswick reach the point where COVID-19 patients overwhelm its health-care system and force its doctors into the same position as their Italian counterparts, who’ve had to make heartbreaking life-or-death decisions with alarming frequency.

That hasn’t happened in Canada. Yet.