In a scary scenario that sounds like that of a bad B movie, Massachusetts state officials are drawing up plans on how to better serve the public. And they’re ready to cull the old, the infirm and the weak. Think it is far-fetched? Think again.
The Commonwealth has been looking at the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and is putting together a playbook for the worst-case scenario. Like every other state, medical professionals are working long hours and dealing with tough working conditions.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, as of April 9, out of 87,000 people that have been tested for the virus, 16,790 were positive and of these 1,400 have been hospitalized — the deceased number 356. And based on the number of daily infections in the state the virus’s curve does not seem to be flattening.
With the spike in cases, the need for ventilators is possibly going to get critical soon. As of right now, the hospitals have enough, but what if the demand exceeds the supply? Massachusetts is hardly alone in asking the federal government for more ventilators. Meanwhile, officials from the Department of Public Health professionals have been putting together a 34-page playbook with guidance for hospitals on who gets a ventilator and more importantly who doesn’t.
Right now this guidance is just that: hospitals aren’t mandated to follow it and are free to come up with their own method of issuing ventilators and other life-saving measures. Yet, according to the report from Boston 25 News, several hospitals were looking at the guidance.
The 34-page report states that race, gender, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic immigration or incarceration status are among the qualifiers that should have no bearing on the determination.
However, what the report does state is that hospitals should set up triage teams that “will screen patients on their prognosis for survival.” Medical care professionals and pregnant women should be given priority. So, patients who have underlying health issues would of a lower priority. One of the biggest discriminating factors is the age of a patient.
Wale Aliyu, a reporter for Boston 25, said that he spoke with some doctors off-air and asked them about the state’s recommendations. While they said they agreed with the Department of Public Health’s guidelines that younger people should be given priority, as they have a better chance of survival and haven’t yet lived a full life, the doctors declined to name themselves — and with good reason: Because their parents wouldn’t be happy if they were the ones told to go home and die. The doctors surveyed called it a sad reality.
A scary reality is more like it.
And we’re not alone. In the U.K., a journalist for the Telegraph, Jeremy Warner took it even a step further, stating that if the current pandemic were to kill a lot of elderly Britons, it would benefit the economy.
Warner wrote last week that the current pandemic of the coronavirus is in sharp contrast to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic since the 1918 flu “disproportionately affected” young people, unlike the COVID-19 strain which “primarily kills the elderly.”
He said that the Spanish Flu had a “lasting impact on supply” because it killed the “primary bread-winners,” which he reasoned probably won’t occur with the coronavirus.
But he then added, “Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.” He nearly sounded like some people from a century ago who propounded culling the sick and the disabled from society.
Difficult times make for difficult decisions, of that there is no doubt. But are we really going there so fast? It’s easy to state the hard-line position as a “sad reality.” But what will happen when one of those triage members of a hospital has an elderly family member come in?
I think we’re better than that. At least I hope we are.