I’ve lost my patience with those who refuse the safe and effective COVID 19 vaccinations. The evidence is that nothing will change their minds.
If they were only putting their own personal health at risk, I might buy their argument about their “freedom.” Yes, you are in fact free to be an idiot. But by refusing vaccination they’re impacting all of us in two important ways. First, they’re providing more opportunities for variants, which are keeping the pandemic going longer than it needs to. And, second, they’re flooding hospitals and having the effect of delaying even routine treatments for things like heart disease that may become more acute. This harms innocent people who have done the right thing and gotten vaccinated.
In these ways unvaccinated people are causing unnecessary death and suffering. So, it’s a fair question: If you have refused to do the easy and right thing to protect your health and that of others, should you get a bed that might go to someone more deserving?
It seems clear that individual doctors in private practice can deny treatment on the basis that the patient had refused to follow sound medical advice. And, in fact, some doctors are doing just that. But my question is about a hospital that is near capacity in its emergency room and ICU.
This is a real question being grappled with in real time. In fact, a task force in Texas has been considering the ethical and practical questions surrounding it. For now, they’ve decided not to take action.
Here’s how the ethics consultant Monty Self discussed the question on the website Goodfaith Media. That’s a medical website with Baptist roots, so it hardly comes out of a secular or liberal tradition.
If resources are limited during a public health crisis, then the goal is to save as many people as possible. It becomes about successfully allocating limited resources.
If there is only one ICU available for two COVID-19 patients who have the same general level of health, but one is vaccinated and the other is not, using vaccination status would make perfect sense in making a determination of who receives the available bed.
The vaccinated patient has a better chance of survival and, on average, will spend less time in the ICU, freeing up resources more quickly for another patient.
The reasoning here is not about punishing the non-vaccinated patient or out of anger towards the unvaccinated. It is about maximizing resources for the best outcome based on good science and data.
Refusing to treat an unvaccinated patient simply because they are unvaccinated is inappropriate. Like all real ethical questions, context is important.
Look, I fully admit it. I AM angry at the unvaccinated. But I’m also not in a position to make these calls because I’m neither a doctor nor a hospital administrator. If I were and I was facing what is essentially a triage situation, it appears, at least based on the view above, that it would be ethical to deny treatment.
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