Dutch cabinet considers lottery ticket system for ICU beds in case of scarcity

The Dutch cabinet is currently working on a motion to prohibit doctors from selecting ICU patients based on their age. Instead, they are considering a lottery system that may be implemented if ICU beds should become scarce.

Physician organisations throughout the Netherlands have constructed a plan for choosing patients who should be prioritised in the event of an ICU bed shortage. Currently, that plan takes into account a person’s age.

Young prioritised over old

According to the current plan, a young person may be given priority over an older patient if the two must be considered for an ICU bed. Potential patients will be listed under certain age groups such as 0-20, 20-40, 40-60, 60-80 and 80+ years.

Dick Willems, professor of medical ethics, tells the NOS that this system of prioritisation is because “we find that someone who is 25 years old has had less chance of a full life than someone who is 65 years old.”

Call for lottery system instead

The Minister for Medical Care, Tamara Van Ark, has written to the Lower House asking to prohibit this choice from being made based on age.

According to the NOS, she writes that “every human life is worth the same. If an older patient has the same chance of recovery on medical grounds as a younger patient, according to the government, he or her should not be denied a claim to life-saving care.”

She proposes that a lottery ticket system should be implemented instead in the case where a doctor must choose between patients based on age.

Currently not necessary

The current plan will only come into effect in the situation where the Netherlands has exhausted all other options. For example, if more beds are needed for ICU patients, more beds are added to wards and Dutch patients may be sent to Germany for help.

However, doctors would like to have some guidelines should the Netherlands experience a complete shortage of facilities for patients in need of intensive care. Dutch hospitals experienced this briefly in April of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Age not the only factor

It is also worth noting that age is just one of the many criteria that doctors must consider in the event of a shortage. Under the current plan, the expected duration of the patients’ stay is also considered, with those expected to make a quick recovery prioritised to receive a bed first.

Healthcare workers who fell ill while treating coronavirus patients in situations where they could not receive proper PPE will also be prioritised. The next step would then be to consider a person’s life stage.

What do you think of the Dutch cabinet’s approach to this plan? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Feature Image: ©ibigfish from Getty Images/Canva.com

Sarah O'Leary
Sarah O'Leary
Sarah originally arrived in the Netherlands due to an inability to make her own decisions — she was simply told by her mother to choose the Netherlands for Erasmus. Life here has been challenging (have you heard the language) but brilliant for Sarah, and she loves to write about it. When Sarah is not acting as a safety threat to herself and others (cycling), you can find her sitting in a corner of Leiden with a coffee, trying to sound witty.

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