In several countries the Covid-19 pandemic has caused situations in which the health care system was severely overburdened. In such situations different collisions of duties appear: due to a shortage of personnel, technical equipment or other resources, adequate medical care cannot be provided to all of the patients that would need it. Such situations may cause an immense burden to decision-makers, who are put in a position to choose whom to offer a chance of survival. This kind of choice opens complex ethical and legal dilemmas, which have been in the past addressed mostly on the basis of hypothetical scenarios. The Covid-19 crisis has urged us to rethink those issues and to offer clear and transparent answers to ethical and legal challenges, with which we are faced as a society.

The main aim of the research project is to explore, what are the potential solutions to the question, how to allocate limited medical resources (personnel or other resources), when medical care cannot be provided to all in the time of epidemics, in particular:

1) to evaluate what are the ethical and value-based underpinnings of medical triage in conditions of overburdened healthcare system;

2) to examine potential legal consequences of triage decisions and international legal practices of evaluating such decisions-making;

3) to examine the response of criminal law system in situations of so-called collisions of duties (when an overburdened individual is unable to fulfil all binding obligations);

4) to analyze domestic and foreign guidelines and recommendations of various (medical) associations and ethics commissions or councils addressing the issue of triage during the coronavirus epidemic, and present their commonalities and differences,

5) to explore the backgrounds of triage reasoning and to examine how practitioners, who are deciding to whom to provide help and to whom to reject it, respond psychologically to the difficult decisions they are making;

6) to examine the concept of advance expressed will and its impact on triage dilemmas;

7) to develop proposals of solutions for ethically challenging dilemmas.

The issues addressed by our research are of paramount importance to decision-makers, general and professional public and patients. They alleviate the heavy psychological burden of the medical staff, who have to make decisions under time pressure and in stressful circumstances. Although the questions are delicate and controversial, discussing them is crucial to ensure transparency of the health sector. Legitimate answers to the ethical and legal questions of triage are also important for patients and their relatives (users) because they bring predictability into uncertain situations and thus alleviate anxiety. Last but not least, findings of the research will also be useful for the drafters of guidelines and recommendations in Slovenia and the criminal justice system. Abroad, law enforcement agencies are already dealing with some controversial cases in regards to providing medical care in the time of epidemic. Our research will address issues of criminal responsibility in the context of Slovenian legal system, prosecutors and judges will be able to rely on its findings. In doing so, we will proceed from an important starting point, that the criminal law should only be a final tool of social policy in this area.

Scientific publications

Mišič, L., Strban G. (2020) Triaža: kjer se pravo in medicina razideta? [Triage: Where Law and Medicine Part Ways?] Pravnik, 137 (11-12), 747-762.

Mišič, L. (2020) Metamorfoze pacientovih pravic v kriznih časih [Metamorphoses of patients’ rights in times of crisis]. Pravna praksa: časopis za pravna vprašanja, 39 (45), pril. str. I-.

Briški, L., Ambrož, M., Salecl, R. (2020) Koga reševati v času pandemije? Etični in kazenskopravni vidiki triaže. Revija za kriminalistiko in kriminologijo [Who to Rescue During a Pandemic? Ethical and Criminal Aspects of Triage], 71 (3), 183-193.

Conferences, Seminars

Conference »Who to Rescue During a Pandemic? Ethical and Criminal Aspects of Triage« (24. 11. 2020, organisation: Council for Development of The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law, Ljubljana), invited speakers: doc. dr. Tit Albreht, prof. dr. Matjaž Ambrož, prof. dr. Valentin Hribar, prof. dr. Alojz Ihan, izr. prof. dr. Matjaž Jereb, prof. dr. Dušan Keber, doc. dr. Tatjana Lejko Zupanc, doc. dr. Luka Mišič, izredni član SAZU prof. dr. Marko Noč, prof. dddr. Andrej Pleterski, prim. Helena Reberšek Gorišek, dr. med., prof. dr. Blaž Rozman, prof. dr. Renata Salecl, prof. dr. Brigita Skela Savič, prof. dr. Alenka Šelih, prof. dr. Mirjana Ule, doc. dr. Božidar Voljč. Conference organisers: prof. dr. Renata Salecl and  prof. dddr. Andrej Pleterski ZRC SAZU.

Renata Salecl
Renata SaleclProject leader

Project team:

Matjaž Jager
Matjaž Ambrož
Lora Briški

Slovenian Research Agency  
Ministry of Health

Project number: V5-2037 (B)

1. 10. 2020 – 31. 10. 2022