As societies around the world deal with increasing restrictions in the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus, there has been much debate in recent days about the economic impact of saving lives. If we truly want to save as many lives as possible, we need to implement whatever lock-downs, quarantines and testing regimes that are necessary to sufficiently slow the spread of the virus. These measures won’t reduce the number of infections, but they will spread them out over a longer period and lessen the impact on global health care systems. The lesser that impact, the more lives saved.
But that could take many months while the economy collapses. Small business can’t pay their rent or their employees if they’re not open for business and, despite politically motivated but well-intentioned aid packages from government, many businesses will cease to function, permanently. The fallout could be more severe than even the great depression of the 1930’s.
As I write this, Donald Trump is telling us that the cure can’t be worse than the illness and we should aim to start lifting restrictions by Easter. That’s about three weeks from now. It’s a no-win situation for Trump. The mainstream media are of course accusing him of reckless disregard for human life. He obviously cares more about money than people. But if continued social distancing and business closures cause economic ruin, that too will no doubt be the fault of the president.
Another politician under fire for thinking out loud is Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who told Fox News, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.” He went on to say, “My messages is that let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it and those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country.” Mr. Patrick is of course taking the same flack as Mr. Trump for his comments that some say reflect his complete disregard for human life.
So, what do we do? Shall we sacrifice the economy and our children’s future, or is it better to expose our senior citizens and the vulnerable among us to the ravages of Covid-19 and hope for the best? It’s a terrible conundrum and as neither a clinician nor an economist, I cannot offer a solution other than to state my belief that every human life, created in the image of God, has infinite value.
The debate will continue in the days ahead as the pandemic plays out across the globe, and retrospect will eventually highlight the good and bad decisions we made along the way.
But in today’s reality, let’s look at some numbers. If the virus was permitted to spread unchecked throughout the population, some 40% to 60% of us would become infected according to estimates. That works out to between 2.8 and 4.2 billion of us based on a population of 7 billion. And if the death rate played out at say, 1% then the number of lives lost would be somewhere between 28 and 42 million.
We need to ask ourselves; would it be worth 42 million deaths to avoid economic chaos? How about just 28 million?
Based on society’s reaction to the remarks of Trump and Patrick, it seems clear that most people would find such a loss of life unbearable and inhumane. Even the most secular of societies would not condone a loss of life on that scale merely for the sake of the economy. It would be unthinkable.
But why is it unthinkable? Is it because we put more value on human life than dollars and cents? Is there some transcendent worth to a human soul? It seems that most people think there is. Human lives are worth saving.
It’s quite acceptable to wipe out a few million chickens to stem the tide of an avian flu outbreak, but human lives are worth saving.
Human lives have value. They’re worth saving.
So, while you’re sitting at home waiting for this pandemic to pass, think about this:
Why do we allow 56 million humans to be killed in the womb every year? Every year!
For the greater economy? I don’t think so.
For the economic well-being of the mother? Perhaps.
For the convenience of allowing a woman to choose.
Ask your leaders to reconcile their position on abortion with what they’re telling you about the pandemic.
Stay home, stay safe, and God bless.