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What are the views of Quebec and Ontario citizens on the tiebreaker criteria for prioritizing access to adult critical care in the extreme context of a COVID-19 pandemic?

BMC Medical Ethics 2024 March 20
BACKGROUND: The prioritization protocols for accessing adult critical care in the extreme pandemic context contain tiebreaker criteria to facilitate decision-making in the allocation of resources between patients with a similar survival prognosis. Besides being controversial, little is known about the public acceptability of these tiebreakers. In order to better understand the public opinion, Quebec and Ontario's protocols were presented to the public in a democratic deliberation during the summer of 2022.

OBJECTIVES: (1) To explore the perspectives of Quebec and Ontario citizens regarding tiebreakers, identifying the most acceptable ones and their underlying values. (2) To analyze these results considering other public consultations held during the pandemic on these criteria.

METHODS: This was an exploratory qualitative study. The design involved an online democratic deliberation that took place over two days, simultaneously in Quebec and Ontario. Public participants were selected from a community sample which excluded healthcare workers. Participants were first presented the essential components of prioritization protocols and their related issues (training session day 1). They subsequently deliberated on the acceptability of these criteria (deliberation session day 2). The deliberation was then subject to thematic analysis.

RESULTS: A total of 47 participants from the provinces of Quebec (n = 20) and Ontario (n = 27) took part in the online deliberation. A diverse audience participated excluding members of the healthcare workforce. Four themes were identified: (1) Priority to young patients - the life cycle - a preferred tiebreaker; (2) Randomization - a tiebreaker of last resort; (3) Multiplier effect of most exposed healthcare workers - a median acceptability tiebreaker, and (4) Social value - a less acceptable tiebreaker.

CONCLUSION: Life cycle was the preferred tiebreaker as this criterion respects intergenerational equity, which was considered relevant when allocating scarce resources to adult patients in a context of extreme pandemic. Priority to young patients is in line with other consultations conducted around the world. Additional studies are needed to further investigate the public acceptability of tiebreaker criteria.

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