Webinar Physicians’ Cavalier Terms About Triage from COVID Ventilators

Jeff Nisker contends that cavalier terms used during a webinar by ICU physicians about pandemic triage send a negative message to persons with disabilities. 


Webinar physicians’ cavalier terms

Spread more than contagion of ventilator-restriction

To set a dangerous precedent

For resource-restriction from persons with disabilities;

Persons seen as less “healthy”

Thus more worthy of death with dignity

“If two MDs agree” that’s all you need

To be judge and jury in Canada.


Webinar physicians’ cavalier terms

Limit persons to just numbers

Entered in “clinical factor calculators”,

And coloured in COVID-criteria charts;

Charts that set persons of difference apart

For better “return on investment”,

And spread the virus of justification

Of the myth of “finite health resources”


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Image Description: An image of an intensive care unit.

Such as “we can’t afford to have this”,

Must be rebutted with a more compassionate

“We can’t afford not ‘to have this’”;

For persons are not cash to be transacted,

Nor liquid assets to be liquidated,

Nor currency to be based

On “predicted short-term mortality”.


Webinar physicians’ cavalier terms

Dissolve physician-trust in hemlock,

And our profession in suspicion,

Confirming the worst opinion of physicians;

Thus we must ensure that “two physicians”

Never add up to one God,

As it’s not our job to be omnipotent

Purveyors of COVID ventilator-restriction.


Webinar physicians’ cavalier terms

Spread concern the physicians who use them

Are insensitive to persons with disabilities,

And other persons of difference;

For though ventilator-restriction is “still hypothetical”,

Hypothetical can mask prophetical

Of the death knell of those deemed less fit,

Of the death knell of justice in our health system.


“Webinar Physicians’ Cavalier Terms About Triage from COVID Ventilators” is a narrative ethics exploration challenging the terms used by critical care physicians. In a recent webinar on the allocation of ventilators during a hypothetical COVID-19 triage situation, presenters stated that there could be restricted access to ventilators for persons deemed less healthy “if two MDs agree”. Ventilator restriction of the less healthy is fixed in the myth of “finite health resources”. I believe it is important to rapidly challenge the terms used by these critical care physicians, as they were heard during the webinar by over 300 Canadian healthcare providers.


Jeff Nisker is a Professor in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a Scientist in the Children’s Health Research Institute, Western University, London Ontario.

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