Top German court tells government to protect disabled with triage law

Emergency hospital unit
An emergency unit at a hospital in Lower Saxony. Photo: Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa
Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that the federal government needs to create a law “without delay” that establishes rules on triage in hospitals.

The court found that the government had “fallen short” in its duty to protect life by not creating such a law on triage during the course of the pandemic.

According to the ruling, the law must ensure that “no one is disadvantaged because of a disability in the allocation of critical intensive care treatment should resources not be available to all.”

Nine people with disabilities or pre-existing conditions made the complaint to the court, fearing that doctors would deny them treatment in the case of triage.

Triage describes a situation in which hospitals need to prioritise life-saving equipment due to strain on resources.

German hospitals have never yet reached the point of having to apply triage during the course of Covid-19 pandemic, although doctors have expressed fear both this winter and last winter that such a situation could occur.

Doctors currently rely on the ethical guidelines written up by the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi), which sets out how patients should be prioritized in the event of triage.

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The complainants said that these guidelines disadvantage them as they make reference to a patient’s general health.

The constitutional judges said that the Divi guidelines were insufficient and that doctors should decide based “purely on current and short term chances of survival.”

Lawmakers now have to “comply with this duty to act without delay by taking suitable precautions,” the judges said.

SEE ALSO: Covid surge – the German districts running out of intensive care beds

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