“A Risk of being Charged with and Sentenced for Intentional Homicide” © Deutscher Ethikrat

The German Ethics Council discussed triage decisions under pandemic conditions in an online evening panel with external experts. In particular, the discussion focused on the fundamental ethical and legal conflicts that arise in triage situations. Among the guests were Tatjana Hörnle (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law), Christoph Rehmann-Sutter (Lübeck University), and Oliver Tolmein (Kanzlei Menschen und Rechte; University of Göttingen). The panel debate “Triage – Priorisierung intensivmedizinischer Ressourcen unter Pandemie­bedin­gun­gen” [“Triage – Prioritizing intensive care resources under pandemic conditions”] took place on March 24.


Tatjana Hörnle, professor of criminal law, stated that there is no legal certainty for medical decision-makers, especially in the case of ex-post triage, i.e., when treatment that has already been initiated for Patient A is discontinued in order to provide care for Patient B. She called for a triage law to clearly establish that ex-post triage is not punishable by law ‒ even when it is carried out with appropriately defined selection criteria. The legislator does not have to define positive selection criteria, but it is allowed to do so.

  • „Triage – Priorisierung intensivmedizinischer Ressourcen unter Pandemiebedingungen“ – Videomitschnitt der Veran­stal­tung
    [“Triage – Prioritizing intensive care resources under pandemic conditions” ‒ Video recording of the panel discussion]
  • „Ethikrat diskutierte über Triage‐Entscheidungen unter Pandemiebedingungen“ – Pressemitteilung des Deutschen Ethikrats vom 25.03.2021[mehr]
    [“Triage - Prioritizing intensive care resources under pandemic conditions” ‒ Press release issued by the German Ethics Council on 25.3.2021]
  • „Ist Zufall besser als Triage?“ – Bericht in der Welt vom 25.03.2021 [mehr]
    [”Is chance better than triage?” ‒ Report in Welt dated 25.3.2021]
  • „Droht Ärzten eine Anklage wegen Totschlags?“ - Interview mit Tatjana Hörnle im Nachrichtenmagazin Der Spiegel vom 24.03.2021 [mehr]
    [“Do doctors face manslaughter charges?” ‒ Interview with Tatjana Hörnle in the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel published on 24.3.2021]
  • „Gefährliche Abwägung - Ethikrat diskutiert über Regeln für Priorisierung“ – Bericht in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung vom 26.03.2021, Nr. 72, S. 2.
    [Report in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dated 26.3.2021, no. 72, p. 2.]

Tatjana Hörnle is director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law and head of the Department of Criminal Law.