It’s a Terrible Idea to Deny Medical Care to Unvaccinated People

Ed Yong, writing in The Atlantic, takes on an idea that has gained a certain amount of traction in recent weeks as hospital systems have been overwhelmed by the Omicron surge: medical care for unvaccinated people should be limited. Yong says that’s a very bad idea:

I ran this argument past several ethicists, clinicians, and public-health practitioners. Many of them sympathized with the exasperation and fear behind the sentiment. But all of them said that it was an awful idea — unethical, impractical, and founded on a shallow understanding of why some people remain unvaccinated.

It’s an understandable response out of frustration and anger, and it is completely contrary to the tenets of medical ethics, which have stood pretty firm since the Second World War,” Matt Wynia, a doctor and ethicist at the University of Colorado, told me. We don’t use the medical-care system as a way of meting out justice. We don’t use it to punish people for their social choices.” The matter is pretty cut-and-dry,” Sara Murray, a hospitalist at UC San Francisco, added. We have an ethical obligation to provide care for people regardless of the choices they made, and that stands true for our unvaccinated patients.”

I absolutely get this, and I absolutely hate it. Smokers get treated. People who refuse to wear a seatbelt and are injured in car crashes get treated. However, there are some laws along those lines. It’s against the law to drive and not wear a seatbelt. Underage children can’t buy cigarettes. Practically everyone can get vaccinated.

Allocating healthcare is a bad thing. I inherently understand the concept. It is a slippery slope. If we deny the unvaccinated treatment it will go down the path of not allowing the disabled healthcare or segregated treatment by gender, race, and wealth.

I’m working on being more empathetic toward the unvaccinated. I have to remember it can be more than just a personal choice.

January 20, 2022