An upcoming article describes the difficulties - some might say horrors - of allocating ventilators in a flu pandemic:
Drs. Hick and O'Laughlin developed their proposal after a recent drill showing that an epidemic affecting ten percent of the Minneapolis area would lead to a "rapid and critical shortfall" in the supply of mechanical ventilators. "Despite a surge capacity of between 2,500 and 3,500 beds in the area, there were 16 ventilators available in our regional system," says Dr. Hick....This begs all sorts of questions. There are several possible forms of distributive justice in healthcare; one common form, for instance, argues that everyone has a right to basic healthcare, but that the wealthy can elect to purchase a better quality of care.
"The goal would be to promote consistency between hospitals and regions," says Dr Hick. "Across the board, resource allocation would be as equal as possible. The concept is distributive justice—doing the greatest good for the greatest number of patients."
But in a situation where you have only 16 ventilators to treat 250 patients, a wealthy person's ability to buy access to a ventilator might cost one or more other people's lives; I think most people can agree that it wouldn't be ethical to auction off ventilators to the highest bidder. But then, how should one allocate ventilators to medical personnel, as opposed to other essential workers, or to private citizens? A strictly egalitarian model of distributive justice, in which the professional or financial status of a person isn't prejudicial, is a noble ideal, but it's not necessarily realistic even at the best of times.
And God knows, these aren't the best of times. If BushCo can be said to have any philosophy of distributive justice - the phrase implies a desire for a fair outcome, after all - it's certainly not egalitarian or utilitarian. Instead, it's based on the sociopathic self-regard endemic among American plutocrats. In BushCo's world, a rich person doesn't just have a superior capacity to get healthcare; he or she has a superior right to it, and that right trumps the more pressing medical need of someone who's less well off.
Obviously, Bush's planning decisions will affect the quality and timeliness of emergency response to a pandemic; that's reason enough for fear and trembling. As Robert Putsch and Linda Pololi note in their paper Distributive Justice in American Healthcare:
The primary source of rationing and inequities in American healthcare is the political system.As far as rationing and inequities go, the steps taken - and not taken - before and after Hurricane Katrina provide a fairly clear picture of how "distributive justice" works under BushCo. Beyond that, I think the administration's elitist, callous philosophy is likely to intensify the dangers emergency workers and doctors face from citizens in a pandemic.
Certain forms of radical individualism are dangerous in an emergency, as are suspicion, paranoia, and pseudo-religious notions that the poor and sick get what they deserve. Unfortunately, Bush and his creatures are modeling and promoting exactly this sort of immoral, irrational, antisocial behavior to a significant chunk of the country. I don't know whether this'll aggravate a pandemic or not, of course. But it does seem to me that any serious plan for egalitarian or utilitarian distribution of healthcare ought to take into account the Bush administration's absolute contempt for egalitarianism and utilitarianism.