Intensive care medicine: triage in case of bottlenecks

SAMS » Ethics » Topics A–Z » Intensive care medicine

Intensive care measures can be very stressful for all those involved, which is why the SAMS has drawn up the medical-ethical guidelines «Intensive-care interventions» (2013) to support professionals. Currently, with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the health system and especially intensive care units are facing extraordinary challenges. Health professionals are exposed to particularly difficult situations and bear great responsibility. The SAMS has therefore supplemented the 2013 guidelines with an annex on triage decisions.

As long as sufficient resources are available, all patients requiring intensive care are admitted and treated according to established criteria. If an emergency situation occurs with a large number of seriously ill patients, rationing decisions will be necessary, placing considerable burdens on medical staff. This makes it all the more important that uniform criteria for intensive-care unit (ICU) admission and continued occupancy should be applied throughout Switzerland.


The SAMS, together with the Swiss Society for Intensive Care Medicine (SGI), has drawn up guidelines that form the basis for such serious decisions. The guidelines supplement the SAMS Guidelines «Intensive-care interventions» and thus concern only a small proportion of patients infected with the coronavirus, namely the group of severely ill patients requiring intensive care. Patients with COVID-19 and other patients requiring intensive care are treated according to the same criteria.


The guidelines on the triage for intensive-care treatment under resource scarcity were published on 20 March 2020. They will be continuously adapted if experience in practice or new scientific findings so require. You can find the latest version with publication date on this page. The previous versions can be found here.


You can find all the medical-ethical guidelines published by the SAMS in the Publications menu.



Additional recommendations for palliative care

The coronavirus infection threatens the entire population but elderly people, who are often multimorbid and frail, are the most vulnerable to serious and fatal outcomes. Severe diseases with an unfavourable prognosis and dying situations require good palliative care for those affected. The current pandemic and the publication of the guidelines for triage decisions have prompted the Association for Geriatric Palliative Medicine (FGPG) to draw up additional practice-oriented recommendations. The SAMS welcomes this initiative.


Learn more about the subject

SAMS President Daniel Scheidegger, himself an intensive care physician, comments on the challenges that intensive care units face during a pandemic in an interview with the Tages-Anzeiger on 18 March 2020 (article in German).


Also worth reading on this topic: the interview with Bernhard Rütsche, Professor of Public Law and Philosophy of Law, in the NZZ of 19 March 2020 (article in German).






lic. iur. Michelle Salathé
Head Department Ethics