In the context of COVID-19, this “greatest good for the greatest number” thinking can leave a lot of vulnerable populations without the medical support to overcome sickness.

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Some state government and professional society guidelines for rationing ventilators exclude patients with long-term diseases | Image from Wall Street International.

In fact, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out the fact that some state government and professional society guidelines for rationing ventilators exclude patients with long-term diseases (such as heart failure, lung disease, kidney disease, and severe cognitive impairment) from accessing ventilators solely based on their comorbidities.

The problem with exclusions like these, other than the fact that they arbitrarily condemn patients with certain chronic diseases over others, is that these restrictions disproportionally affect minority groups.

According to the CDC’s 2011 Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, Hispanic and Black Americans and those with low socioeconomic status were more likely to struggle with coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and asthma, all risk factors that make it more likely for a patient to not receive treatment under pandemic guidelines.

In fact, the CDC recognizes that COVID-19 disproportionally infects, hospitalizes, and kills Hispanic and Black Americans over Asian and White Americans. The cause of this difference is multifaceted, but it’s certainly linked to systematic racial issues like lack of insurance for minorities, residential segregation, food deserts, and over-representation in prisons.

When doctors try to follow strict guidelines when distributing vital treatments, like those proposed in New York’s Ventilator Allocation Guidelines, they may be unknowingly treating a greater percentage of white patients with higher socioeconomic status based solely on objective criteria.

Knowing the racially skewed impact of Coronavirus on American populations, policymakers and public health officials should possibly make guidelines that skew treatment back towards disproportionally affected populations, even if it’s not the most utilitarian choice.

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It’s difficult enough for healthcare workers to normally decide the best treatment for each patient | Image from Wall Street International.

At least in my lifetime, I’ve never seen medicine facing such hard-ethical decisions. It’s difficult enough for healthcare workers to normally decide the best treatment for each patient, so I can’t imagine the added stress of not having enough equipment for everyone that needs it.

It’s unfortunate that we are even in this situation, and that we didn’t fully prepare for the scope of this pandemic. I am just hoping that, through the clear burden of illness and death that marginalized groups are facing from COVID-19, more people are able to recognize the obvious systematic oppression that certain Americans face and that we can better orient society to address that oppression and decrease some of those negative health outcomes.