The prospect of a severe influenza pandemic poses a daunting public health threat to hospitals and the public they serve. The event of a severe influenza pandemic will put hospitals under extreme stress; only so many beds, ventilators, nurses, and physicians will be available, and so it is likely that more patients will require medical attention than can be completely treated. Triage is the process of sorting patients in a time of crisis to determine who receives what level of medical attention. How will hospitals sort patients to determine priority for treatment? What criteria will be used? Who will develop these criteria? This article formulates an answer to these questions by constructing a conceptual framework for anticipating and responding to the ethical issues raised by triage in the event of a severe influenza pandemic.
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