Friday, May 12, 2006

Heard this on the news in my travels this week. The discussion was about who should get vaccines if the there was a Asian Bird flu pandemic-as there would not be enough to go around. The conventional wisdom was that after first responders and health care workers were vaccinated, the young and elderly would be next. However, the current of issue of Science Magazine (subscription required apparently, summary here) has an article which argues differently: Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Alan Wertheimer contend that "Rather than thinking only about saving the most lives when considering vaccine rationing strategies, a better approach would be to maximize individuals' life span and opportunity to reach life goals."

According to the radio piece I heard, the authors recommend that those 13 - 40 should be the first for vaccines based on 2 principles: 1. everyone should have the opportunity to live through an entire lifespan (thus don't save the elderly, they have already had their chance); and 2. those who have already an 'investment' in life should benefit before those who haven't (thus don't safe the young).

Funny how the very young and the very old (the weakest) are always the ones to be shifted aside for the benefit of others.

But the fundamental problem with this philosophy is the propostion that some lives are somehow more valuable than others. Don't even save the most people, save certain segments. Today it is the 13-40 age group, tomorrow it is the group with the right ethnic background and political or religious beliefs. (Disclaimer: the whole value of vaccinations in general is an entirely further discussion.)


Best Bird Flu Blogs team. said...

The recent post in your Blog, related to the bird flu virus, raised a thought provoking question about the distribution of vital resources during an emergency and as to how life and death decisions for millions of people, can be taken by a few.

We have today added this entry of your blog, to the "Best Bird Flu Blogs..." section of our site:

We hope that we will have many further entries from you, regarding the serious subject of the bird flu virus.

Best Bird Flu Blogs team.

Stella said...

"All animals are equal." was the motto of the revolution in George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM." At the end of the revolution the animals found themselves deceived into a tyranny where this addition was tacked on the end of the motto: "But some animals are more equal than others."

The rational behind saving the "best" instead of the "most" lives is based upon a materialist view of man as a producer. People under 13 and over 40 leech off those who are reaching their "life goals" in their careers. On the contrary, the most useful people in the world are the helpless.

Those that can do nothing for themselves bring the rest of us out of ourselves to focus our attentions on the non-me for a little while. If the circumstances for heroic self-denial (especially long term) are few and far between, how much more scarce will be our positive response?

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