From First Things
By John Waters
it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of “conspiracy against life” is unleashed.
We have too few intensive care beds in our hospitals to deal with the vast numbers of very, very sick, moribund numbers of people over the age of 75 and 80 and at the same time we have hundreds of people in their 40s and 50s, at their peak productivity in terms of their usefulness to the state and the social contract? Are we going to prioritise the young and the productive as opposed to those who are elderly?
I think one of the advantages of this coronavirus is that we are now having to have really difficult discussions that we have put off for years and years, about capacity, about the social contract and about the fact that we’re all living longer and longer and we haven’t got enough nursing home beds, never mind intensive care unit beds.
Patients over 65 or younger with co-morbidities are not even assessed by ITU. I am not saying not tubed, I’m saying not assessed and no ITU staff attends when they arrest. Staff are working as hard as they can but they are starting to get sick and are emotionally overwhelmed. My friends call me in tears because they see people dying in front of them and they can only offer some oxygen.
Most of my childhood friends are now doctors working in north Italy. In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua, they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year-old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don't have enough beds. In the hallway, meanwhile, there are another 15 people waiting who are already hardly breathing and need oxygen.