Two patients, one ventilator: Ford Govt. says ethicists on staff for consultation


Heartbreaking accounts of doctors in northern Italy deciding which patients get ventilators have reflected the grim reality of how brutal the COVID-19 outbreak has been when uncontrolled.

But what if a doctor here in Ontario is faced with the same scenario?

Two patients with similar symptoms, but just one ventilator: is there an ethical guideline for that?

“Yes, we have an ethicist that is at the command table,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday in the government’s latest media briefing. “We are building out an ethical framework, any physicians who have any questions right now or in the future can certainly refer to the ethicist for guidance.”

Elliott has continued take questions about hospital capacity and the number of ventilators in the province, which currently stands at 12 per 100,000 people.

It’s also led to various efforts in the public and private sector to find more, such as Ontario’s plastic surgeons mobilizing to donate their own.

The minister has consistently stated the province’s intention to have enough ventilators in place for whoever needs them, but conceded that ethicist may be needed.

“We recognize that there will be situations where there may be assistance that’s needed in that,” she said. “But certainly with respect to the issue of ventilators, we are supplying, preparing to obtain a supply that will serve all Ontarians.”

The question of supplies beyond ventilators, such as personal protective equipment has often been discussed by Premier Doug Ford as well, saying earlier this week it’s been a challenge, but that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” with more supplies coming in.

On N95 masks for example, he noted that there’s one plant in South Dakota that all of North America is ordering from, while one in the U.K. won’t distribute to North America, with all other provinces in the same boat.

When asked if he would be in favour of Ottawa centralizing control of distribution and giving up his own procurement procedure, Ford said he has confidence from the federal government, referencing a conversation he had with deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland.

“’Doug when that assembly line starts, do not stop it,’” Ford said he was told. 

The premier said Ontario is also on order for 10,000 ventilators and that in a conference call with other premiers, that his province is being counted on for deliveries.

“They’re really, really relying on the province of Ontario, we’re the manufacturing engine of Canada, we’re using our manufacturing might, ingenuity and engineering skills,” he said.

As of Friday, the province reported 993 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 60 people in hospital, including 43 in ICU and 32 on ventilators.