Reverse Triage and People Whose Disabilities Render Them Dependent on Ventilators

Phenomenology, Embodiment and Homelikeness


  • Nathan Emmerich Australian National University
  • Pat McConville Monash University



The COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned a great deal of ethical reflection both in general and on the issue of reverse triage; a practice that effectively reallocates resources from one patient to another on the basis of the latter having a more favourable clinical prognosis. This paper addresses a specific concern that has arisen in relation to such proposals: the potential reallocation of ventilators relied upon by disabled or chronically ill patients. This issue is examined via three morally parallel scenarios. First, the standard reallocation of a ventilator in accordance with reverse triage protocols; second, the reallocation of a personal ventilator from a chronically ill patient ordinarily reliant on it; and, third, the reallocation of a personal ventilator owned by a financially privileged individual but who is not ordinarily reliant on it. This paper suggests that whilst property rights cannot resolve these scenarios in a satisfactory manner, it may be possible to do so if we draw on the resources of phenomenology. However, in contradistinction to a recent paper on this topic (Reynolds et al. 2021), we argue that ethical claims to ventilators are not well grounded by the overly demanding notion that they are embodied objects. We suggest that the alternative phenomenological notion of homelikeness provides for a more plausible resolution of the issue. The personal ventilators of individuals who commonly rely upon them become part of their ordinary, everyday or homelike being. They are a necessary part of the continuation or maintenance of their basic state of health or wellbeing and the reallocation of such objects is unethical.

Keywords: Phenomenology, COVID-19, Pandemic, Triage, Reverse triage, Ventilation, Chronic illness, Allocation of resources


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How to Cite

Emmerich, N., & McConville, P. (2021). Reverse Triage and People Whose Disabilities Render Them Dependent on Ventilators: Phenomenology, Embodiment and Homelikeness. Etikk I Praksis - Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 15(2), 49-61.



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