Of triage, of justice.

Emily Chase

Albert Einstein College of Medicine, MS3/4 Gap Year


March 26, 2020

A few weeks ago, I had an in-person class on public health disasters as part of my Masters in Bioethics. Now, I find myself holed up in my room for the past few days. My parents were supposed to fly in last weekend to New York and have now decided to stay home. Synagogues have been cancelled, weddings have been cancelled, schools have been cancelled. As I contemplate the thought of taking class online in the coming month, I think about what it means to be able to communicate on the computer in the midst of a pandemic. In the Fall of 2019, I had decided to take a gap year to pursue a Masters of Bioethics. Little did I know that these bioethical principles I was learning, of triage, of justice, of the fair allocation of resources, would soon become more than an abstraction. Watching the bioethical principles I have learned this year coming to life has been more terrifying than I could have imagined.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately provided ready material to write about for class on the application of bioethical principles. The question of the just distribution of limited testing resources, of limited ICU rooms, and, perhaps most importantly, of limited ventilators is a serious bioethical dilemma that physicians and nurses are facing in hospitals across the country. More recently, the shortage of proper protective equipment for healthcare workers brings up the bioethical question of how much healthcare workers should be required to risk their own lives in order to save others.

My course directors are working to head the ethics committee at Montefiore and create fair protocols to help deal with this heartbreaking crisis. For now, classes are on Zoom, while our instructors scramble to balance teaching classes with creating triage protocol for the hospitals struggling with limited resources. This experience has taught me the importance of being prepared for the unexpected and how crucial health care policy is in saving lives. It is always terrifying to watch unfortunate abstractions come to life, but when we are able to properly prepare and create an ethical framework and policy that is fair and just, this is the first step to moving forward. This terrible situation has made me want to be involved in creating larger policies that will help both in times of calm and in times of crisis.

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