Unthinkable: U.S. hospitals consider denying care to Ebola patients

Unthinkable: U.S. hospitals consider denying care to Ebola patients

But the care of the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, who received dialysis and intubation and infected two nurses caring for him, is spurring hospitals and medical associations to develop the first guidelines for what can reasonably be done and what should be withheld.

Officials from at least three hospital systems interviewed by Reuters said they were considering whether to withhold individual procedures or leave it up to individual doctors to determine whether an intervention would be performed.

Ethics experts say they are also fielding more calls from doctors asking what their professional obligations are to patients if healthcare workers could be at risk.

U.S. health officials meanwhile are trying to establish a network of about 20 hospitals nationwide that would be fully equipped to handle all aspects of Ebola care.

Their concern is that poorly trained or poorly equipped hospitals that perform invasive procedures will expose staff to bodily fluids of a patient when they are most infectious. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with kidney specialists on clinical guidelines for delivering dialysis to Ebola patients. The recommendations could come as early as this week.   …

[T]here are no reliable data on when someone truly is beyond help, whether dialysis can make the difference between life and death, or even whether cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be done safely with proper protective equipment and protocols.

Such procedures “may have diminishing effectiveness as the severity of the disease increases, but we simply have no data on that,” said Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, director of the bioethics center at Georgetown University.

Donovan said he had received inquiries from fellow physicians about whether hospitals should draw up lists of procedures that would not be performed on an Ebola patient. “To have a blanket refusal to offer these procedures is not ethically acceptable,” he said he told the doctors.

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