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Thematic Issue: Rights Protection amidst COVID-19 / General

Legal Challenges to ICU Triage Decisions in the COVID-19 Pandemic: How Effectively Does the Law Regulate Bedside Rationing Decisions in Australia?


Eliana Close, Simon Young, Tina Cockburn, Lindy Willmott and Ben P White

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the difficult question of how to ration scarce intensive care resources when a health system is overwhelmed. Despite substantial ethical scholarship addressing these rationing decisions, little is known about the legal position in Australia. This article considers various legal challenges in response to a clinical scenario denying intensive care admission and a ventilator to a critically ill patient with COVID-19. The article considers key challenges in negligence, criminal law, administrative law, human rights law, and under the parens patriae jurisdiction and guardianship legislation, and how they would apply to this scenario. The article concludes that while there are many obstacles to a successful legal challenge, the law can provide important scrutiny and guidance in the design of decision-making processes and triage policies. To adequately protect individual interests, the article supports calls in the ethical literature to make these policies transparent for public scrutiny. 

Please access full article here or via PDF link to the left.

(2021) 44(1) UNSWLJ 9: