Sequential organ failure assessment, ventilator rationing and evolving triage guidance: new evidence underlines the need to recognise and revise, unjust allocation frameworks

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We respond to recent comments on our proposal to improve justice in ventilator triage, in which we used as an example New Jersey's (NJ) publicly available and legally binding Directive Number 2020-03. We agree with Bernard Lo and Doug White that equity implications of triage frameworks should be continually reassessed, which is why we offered six concrete options for improvement, and called for monitoring the consequences of adopted triage models. We disagree with their assessment that we mis-characterised their Model Guidance, as included in the NJ Directive, in ways that undermine our conclusions. They suggest we erroneously described their model as a two-criterion allocation framework; that recognising other operant criterion reveals it 'likely mitigate[s] rather than exacerbate[s] racial disparities during triage', and allege that concerns about inequitable outcomes are 'without evidence'. We highlight two major studies robustly demonstrating why concerns about disparate outcomes are justified. We also show that White and Lo seek to retrospectively-and counterfactually-correct the version of the Model Guideline included in the NJ Directive. However, as our facsimile reproductions show, neither the alleged four-criteria form, nor other key changes, such as dropping the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score, are found in the Directive. These points matter because (1) our conclusions hence stand, (2) because the public version of the Model Guidance had not been updated to reduce the risk of inequitable outcomes until June 2021 and (3) NJ's Directive still does not reflect these revisions, and, hence, represents a less equitable version, as acknowledged by its authors. We comment on broader policy implications and call for ways of ensuring accurate, transparent and timely updates for users of high-stakes guidelines.


medical ethics, health policy, medical policy, public policy

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Journal of Medical Ethics