Opinion | When Medical Ethics Collide With Basic Fairness

But the longer this pandemic goes on, the more l feel fury rising in my throat like bile. I am growing angrier and angrier about the ignorance and the arrogance that keep making things unnecessarily harder, and so much more dangerous, for the rest of us.

Even as Delta ravages the South, too many people stubbornly repeat the lies they’ve been told for months. As a result — not just here but all over the country — others are dying of treatable non-Covid illnesses and suffering unendurable non-Covid pain, all for lack of room at hospitals to treat them.

This stopped being something I only read about in the news when it hit home for my friend Betsy Phillips, a writer and local historian who has been contending all year with a life-threatening condition that remained undiagnosed until very recently. For her, a breakthrough Covid infection could be devastating.

She felt a little better when she finally got a diagnosis for the mysterious condition that had been making it difficult for her to breathe: granulomatous disease, the result of a histoplasmosis infection. Surgery to remove the growth that is pressing on her windpipe wouldn’t make Tennessee less of a Covid hot spot, but at least it would let Betsy breathe freely again.

But earlier this month, the hospital called and canceled her operation. It didn’t have room for her because it was treating too many unvaccinated Covid patients. As Betsy put it in an essay for The Washington Post, “They wouldn’t do their civic duty, but they get access to hospitals in front of those of us who did.”

In one sense, this is nothing new. With communicable diseases, it has always been the case that one person’s choices can affect other people’s health. What’s new with this particular communicable disease is how quickly our scientists and medical professionals have found ways to help keep us safe. And every one of those ways has been undermined by the very people who are now making it difficult or impossible for others to get the care they need.

But also not new is the field of medical ethics, which requires health care workers to provide skilled and compassionate treatment even to patients who arguably bring their problems on themselves. Lung cancer patients aren’t turned away from the hospital door, even if they’re three-packs-a-day smokers, and Covid patients should not be turned away because they have refused a vaccine.

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