Ultimate choice forced by COVID-19— Who gets Ventilator?

Tommy Kan
3 min readMar 23, 2020


The COVID-19 is just like a new Comet travels 300 MPH hit our beautiful Earth suddenly, no countries, states, companies, organizations, families and individuals were ready for this shock wave, this is the reality now we have to face together as One World. It’s been a very tough and exhausting fight so far when we see what happened in China, what’s happening now across Europe esp. Italy, Spain, and rapidly growing cases in US, while it’s still not the bottom yet. BUT I am fundamentally a big believer of the collective humanity, solid scientific and technological base we’ve established so far, so we will get through it TOGETHER!

Today, I want to focus on a key aspect of this uphill fight at this point — how and who to decide “Who lives and who dies” in the frontline medical battlefield, lots of overwhelmed hospitals all over the world hit by the shortage of the live-saving medical equipments for treat this deadly virus caused symptoms esp. Ventilator!

Through unconfirmed sources (while I personally believe it’s highly possible under this situation), it says that lots of hospitals in the already heavily hit countries like China, Italy and Spain, the doctors and nurses have been forced to make the toughest choice — which patients get the scare Ventilator, and most of the time, the choice were highly consistent, save young people by sacrificing old people (like 65+ years old ).

This recalled me the famous open course Justice by Harvard professor Michael Sandel.

It kicked off with a purely hypothetical live-or-die moral dilemma — A full-speed Trolley car with fully broken brake heading to 5 workers, you are the one on it, the steering still works well and you saw a side track with only one worker there, so you have two choices
(1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and
(2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing — what would you do?

What would be the right thing to do?

The majority of the students chose saving five by killing one which follows utilitarian — in short, the greater good.

I really enjoyed how Professor Sandel articulates the different theories of Moral Reasoning and the great ways he helps the big classroom fully engaged! While I never imagined that during my life, I would ever encounter a real situation to apply what I learnt from these theories. And it just happened NOW, the tough choice in the hospitals on who gets Ventilator who doesn’t is exactly the same situation of the Trolley scenario!

Not a single normal person likes to be put in the situation to make this tough call, I guarantee. So to make a difference at individual level, we all should take solid actions for the society and for ourselves:
- Keep exercising Social Distancing — the only way to flatten the curve!
- Contribute, big or small, incl. donate to local hospitals for purchasing PPE(Personal Protective Equipment)
- Educate people around you with the science based information by exercising strong critical thinking.

Last, there are some great news that more companies like GM, Tesla are trying to help improve the Ventilator shortage problems!

We haven’t seen the light from the end of the tunnel, while it will come, let’s believe and take every actions we could at every individual level! As a species who sent human being onto Moon and defeated countless diseases incl. measles, smallpox, we will win this tough fight together!



Tommy Kan

A lifelong learner and explorer! Grew up in Asia, now enjoying the dynamism of Silicon Valley in the sunny California.