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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Italy has found that COVID-19 patients require an ICU bed for an average of 15 days — an overlong time frame when the state is at the peak of the disease curve.
As new patients pour in daily, ICU beds become precious resources and have to be rationed for those who have the greatest likelihood of survival.
An Italian health official explained the situation for Euro News: "There is a huge turnover issue. COVID-19 patients don't stay in intensive care units five, six or seven days on average, but their average stay is protracted to be over 15 days. So it is clear that resources cannot be freed for other patients who need to be hospitalized."
"If we understand the patient has severe health issues to the point of having no chance to live," he said, "and we need to give a bed or direct resources to someone who has more chances to survive, this is a choice that — despite being ethically hard to accept from a clinical point of view — can be done to give someone the possibility to survive compared to someone else who would have zero chance."
Twice, the Italian official raises the key question: How do health officials decide when a patient has no chance to live?
According to Kim Schwartz, director of Media and Communications at Texas Right to Life, officials in Italy are prioritizing non-elderly patients with COVID-19 over any elderly patients, regardless of the elderly person's presenting health condition.
"They are denying new elderly patients with stroke, for example, over young virus victims," Schwartz told Church Militant.
Texas Right to Life's position is that "these decisions should not be based on discriminatory reasons, like age, that contradict the innate value of the human person. Instead, in times of limited resources, decisions should be made on the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of treatment."
Rationing decisions based on age not only discriminate against the elderly but also against women, since women typically live longer than men and make up greater than 50% of the elderly population.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Age alone is a poor marker of disability. Decision making in medicine should be based on potential benefit to the individual."
"Discrimination on the basis of age (agism) is not only ethically unacceptable in a society embracing principles of justice and equity, but also unsupportable on scientific and/or economic analysis," it continues.
By invoking "the potential benefit to the individual" as above, bioethicists are acknowledging that a spry 80-year-old may have a stronger COVID-19 outcome than, for example, a middle-aged drug addict.
Even if agism were acceptable for healthcare rationing, there would be the problem of defining "elderly." At what age does one become elderly? A quick internet search of the phrase, "60 is the new 40" serves up dozens of articles with that headline. The problem with "elderly" is that it keeps shifting upward.
In the face of a global pandemic and healthcare rationing, Texas Right to Life is urging everyone to look into his state's end-of-life laws.