Tuesday, May 12, 2020
The Value of Human Life
One of the most vexing aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, at least for me, is the question of the value we all must place on human life. It's a gruesome question at least slightly akin to who gets a seat on an overcrowded lifeboat. We have to be clear-eyed, recognizing that there's very little chance our society will emerge from this whole.
Some, such as the goons we have watched storm state houses across the US aren't particularly troubled by the issue. They want the lockdowns lifted and the economy, as they imagine it, reactivated. To them, it seems, this is a question of some constitutionally guaranteed rights which, in today's America, is often restated as the right of an individual to do pretty much whatever in hell that person feels like doing.
You can find that attitude utterly repugnant but we all must draw a line somewhere. We all have to find some balance between preserving life and preventing irreparable harm to the economy. We're all pressed to formulate some value for human life.
Even in lockdown the coronavirus is claiming lives. The protesters know that lifting requirements for quarantine and physical distancing will up the death rate. How many deaths doesn't seem to matter to them. They claim to be prepared to accept the risk and, for that, everyone else should accept that same risk.
America's revered virologist, Dr. Tony Fauci, testifies today before a Senate committee. So confident was he in the committee's integrity that Fauci chose to release a summary of his views, in advance, to the New York Times, lest his evidence be twisted and spun out of context by his Senate interrogators.
Fauci intends to testify that Covid-19 is not the "one and done" threat that those clamoring to re-open the economy imply. He will testify that the pandemic will revisit the American people this autumn when parents anticipate their kids will be safe to return to school. There will be no virus available for kids to safely return to school in September. He will also testify that the progress made in dampening the contagion at such great cost, including the lives of 81,000 Americans to date, can be squandered by lifting the lockdown prematurely which, he argues, could put America back to square one.
Fauci's evidence adds a layer of complexity to the question of how many deaths are too steep a price to pay for re-opening the economy. Not just future deaths but the deaths already logged rendered irrelevant, inconsequential - squandered.
If Fauci's worst-case scenario is allowed to happen - all those lives and the existing damage to the economy will be for nothing. The pandemic will be unchecked, able to return, mutate and spread to many of those who have so far dodged that bullet.
Under incredible pressure, America's healthcare establishment has formulated a three-tier process by which the lockdown can be lifted. But it's a tentative process at best. If it doesn't work, if the virus flares again, governments, state and federal, will have to move very quickly to restore the lockdown before something even worse than what they've seen already befalls the American people.
The lockdown is taking a toll on the economy, no question. But the very purpose of the lockdown recognizes that the virus, unchecked, can do far greater damage not just to the economy but to the public. It can take a huge toll in GDP and also in lives.
We need to start working on what we can do lest we fall into this same trap. Perhaps nationalizing Canada's nursing homes would be a good first start. The private sector's dismal record has been the stuff of front page headlines in our newspapers. As kids we were told that the Innu would dispose of their elderly by putting them on ice floes where they might freeze or be taken by polar bears. In our time we do something gruesomely similar, perhaps even less humane, by discarding the elderly into glorified charnal houses.
We also need to work on parameters of how many deaths we'll tolerate as the cost of lifting the lockdowns and re-opening the economy. We have to recalculate the value of human life. For those who will die, we owe them no less.