Ethical Framework for Nutrition Support Resource Allocation During Shortages: Lessons From COVID-19.

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Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition




The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted all aspects of our population. The "Troubling Trichotomy" of what can be done technologically, what should be done ethically, and what must be done legally is a reality during these unusual circumstances. Recent ethical considerations regarding allocation of scarce resources, such as mechanical ventilators, have been proposed. These can apply to other disciplines such as nutrition support, although decisions regarding nutrition support have a diminished potential for devastating outcomes. The principal values and goals leading to an ethical framework for a uniform, fair, and objective approach are reviewed in this article, with a focus on nutrition support. Some historical aspects of shortages in nutrition supplies and products during normal circumstances, as well as others during national crises, are outlined. The development and implementation of protocols using a scoring system seems best addressed by multidisciplinary ethics and triage committees with synergistic but disparate functions. Triage committees should alleviate the burdens of unilateral decisions by the healthcare team caring for patients. The treating team should make every attempt to have patients and the public at large update or execute/develop advance directives. Legal considerations, as the third component of the Troubling Trichotomy, are of some concern when rationing care. The likelihood that criminal or civil charges could be brought against individual healthcare professionals or institutions can be minimized, if fair protocols are uniformly applied and deliberations well documented.


Infectious Diseases




Biomedical Ethics