Who gets to live? How doctors make impossible decisions as COVID-19 surges
Triage aims to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest number, but medical staff are grappling with how to stay true to this principle as coronavirus surges.
The word “triage” stems from the French trier, which means “to sort.” The idea was popularized in the late 1700s during the French Revolution, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign into Egypt and Syria led to a large number of wounded.
A French military surgeon, Dominique Jean Larrey, came up with the idea of sorting casualties for care based on the severity of the soldiers’ wounds, regardless of their rank. (Larrey even treated enemy soldiers—earning him a reputation that spurred the Prussian calvary to save his life when he was captured.)
Two centuries later, the goal of triage in emergency medicine remains the same: to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of individuals. But as large