The issue of morality and ethics during a severe influenza pandemic has often come up on the various flu forums over these two years. It is not a pleasant issue, nor is it an especially comfortable one. Many times I have experienced revulsion and even emotional trauma at things that have been said by one or another Fellow Flubie. And yet, when I strip away my 20th Century Middle-Class Southern Sensibilities and ignore the details, leaving only the intent, I understand. I understand all the way through my "Mother’s Heart and Soul."
You see, when I was a young mother, knowing that fathers do not always stick around, I swore a sacred oath that I would do anything necessary to provide for, and protect, my son. I was lucky, I never had to test my commitment to that oath, but I am certain I would have done whatever was necessary.
When I first read the articles from The Wall Street Journal about Thailand’s WHO representative Dr. Suit Wibulpolprasert proposed taking, and holding ,foreign nationals hostage until Thailand received PanFlu vaccines I was appalled and angered, but after several hours of the concept percolating in the back of my mind while I went about my day and evening duties, I remembered that oath I made many years ago, and now I am not so angered or appalled. The WSJ article may be found here.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government is getting into the mix, albeit a tad late. HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt has finally summoned the energy to lodge a formal protest with Bangkok over remarks by one of its officials that Thailand will arrest foreign nationals in the event of an influenza outbreak. At a January meeting of the executive board of the World Health Organization, Thai representative Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert proposed holding Western tourists hostage until Bangkok received flu vaccines.
Tonight I have a better understanding of the probable reality that people and governments will do what they feel they need to do. The question is where will the line(s) likely be? Almost certainly well beyond my 20th Century Middle-Class Southern Sensibilities, but whose problem is that, mine, or those that insult them? I do not have a shifting moral code, mine are well defined and well considered, and yet, I know that when Life and Death are in the balance even laws, and most religions, will allow for behavior not normally tolerated or condoned, how could I be less understanding of desperate people doing desperate things?
I am not defending the Thailand official’s comments or the concept itself, in fact, I think it’s a fool’s idea, there will be no vaccine to "share" or pay ransom with. For a more thorough explanation of this see Fla_Medic’s Blog entry about this issue, he deals with it in his usual excellent way and I would have nothing additional to add to the angle he addresses.
I would suggest that Thailand, and every country, do all they can to prepare for a severe pandemic and not to rely on the bounties paid by better prepared countries, even if the expenditure is painful or questionable in light of other needs, because even little things will go a long way to assist people getting through a moderate to severe pandemic, and maybe not have to test the lines of morality to do it. And there is the added benefit that most preparations will benefit the citizenry even if there is no severe pandemic.
American tax payers have invested billions of dollars to prepare for a moderate to severe PanFlu event. Those billions have gone into direct purchases, and more importantly, research, and even those BILLIONS are woefully inadequate to meet needs should PanFlu explode within the next year or three. Billions have been seeded around the world to help less able countries meet the current and future challenges of a PanFlu event. And guess what…. The average American will not see any vaccine or antiviral medications. We will be no better off than the Thailand citizens whose government has not invested money in the name of its citizens for PanFlu preparation.
A severe Influenza Pandemic will test people and societies like nothing has since WWII, and most of those who were old enough to remember those tests and responses are no longer with us. I have a feeling that my sensibilities will not be the only ones insulted or offended… most of us have just never had to make decisions along the lines that many may find themselves having to make. Having said that however, if people and governments would step up, take responsibility and actually prepare, those tests would likely be minimized and/or isolated.
I don’t anticipate having to steal food from my neighbor because I have stocked a reasonable amount of the bare minimum foodstuffs needed to survive. But, the most valuable thing I have done, personally, to prepare for a moderate to severe pandemic is become informed to the best of my ability. Informed as broadly and specifically as I could manage, going out of my way to read all thoughts and ideas and weighing them for myself and my family and our likely needs should the potential become reality.
I recommend nothing less to everyone.