The God Squad: Make sure that all your good friends are actually good
Q: I do hope you answer this, as I count on your counsel and I am struggling with this. I have a friend of long standing who was not in the required categories for the COVID-19 vaccine but nonetheless, took advantage of the early confusion to cut the vaccine line, metaphorically pushing someone out of the lifeboat who is in much greater need. She justifies this by saying that she pursued the vaccine aggressively, it was offered to her, so what could she do, and most of her friends were doing the same thing. She sees it as taking care of herself. God knows, it is not my place to judge, I have more than enough to manage my own flaws and temptations, but this remains a stumbling block between us. To throw away a friend of long standing feels wrong on some levels, but to steal a miracle, as you say, is so not worthy of any of our souls and feels so unforgivable to me. How would you think this through and what would you do? I do hope you answer. It matters to me. Blessings and health. You are an angel without wings to me – L
A: Remember the scene in the movie “Titanic” where some of the men in first class took seats in the lifeboats away from women and children? Well, we are all passengers on the COVID-Titanic and some people are, again, taking seats in the lifeboats that deserve to go to others. I was recently told by a friend that he knew a wealthy businessman who offered $100,000 to a health professional for vaccine shots.
My doctorate in philosophy happens to be in the field of medical ethics and I have published in medical journals my thoughts on the ethical problem you raise, which is the allocation of scarce medical resources. This ethical problem is called triage.
In triage there are actually two tests. The first test is the Criterion of Inclusion. This is the first cut of triage. It involves identifying the group of people whose lives are most at risk from the virus. This group obviously includes the elderly and those with co-morbidities, but it also includes medical professionals and EMT workers and first responders who are put into close contact with infected patients because of their work.
The second test is the Criterion of Selection. This is the second cut of triage. It requires us to determine who among the first group of severely vulnerable people should get the virus first. I believe that the fairest approach in the selection process, to put it plainly, is flipping a coin. Pure randomness means that you give the vaccines to the first people you see from the first group without distinctions.
The distribution system in America has tried to do triage in a fair way. Only the elderly can get appointments and all of them who qualify must line up and wait their turn. That is how I got my shots.
However, the triage of the COVID vaccines still faces daunting ethical problems. Should teachers who are not in the vulnerable first group be allowed to cut the line so that they can return to the classroom? Should politicians who must vote on the social policy of triage be allowed to cut the line? I hear from clergy of all faiths who want to cut the line so that they can perform funerals in person. There are also the technical difficulties of making an appointment when you are not adept at using computers or not able to get through on the phone. There is the problem of workers who are eligible but not able to get off work to get vaccinated. And finally, there are the cheaters who somehow are able to game the system to get shots they do not deserve on any level. Triage is a messy process, and it is hardly ever completely fair, but all these difficulties must be overcome in order to secure public trust.
As to your friend, dear L, I would need to know some details your email omitted. Did your friend actually cut the line or did she merely persevere and spend all day on the phone making an appointment to which she was entitled? Working hard to get what you deserve is not cheating. If she was not eligible because of her age or profession or condition, how did she cheat? I would not advise you to throw away a friendship because of a set of facts that are not clear. If, on the other hand, she is in fact a “low down, dirty, good for nuthin’ skunk,” letting her go is something that would become inevitable anyway. My best advice: Make sure that all your good friends are actually good!
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)
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