Original Publish Date: April 12, 2022
"It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." – Lewis Carroll
No One Gets Out Alive
Around the globe, approximately 56 million people die each year, including 3.4 million in the United States. In the year before COVID-19, around the world 18.6 million died from cardiovascular disease (700,000 in the U.S), 10 million from cancer (600,000 in the U.S.), 9 million from hunger, 1.2 million from road injuries and 759,000 from suicide. COVID-19 has killed almost one million lives to date in the U.S., but such numbers and statistics neither justify nor clarify the essence of death. Not only is death an amorphous concept, but few if any who write on the topic have actually experienced it.
Death is inevitable, and by all accounts death has existed since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, death tolls often fail to include meaningful perspective, much less the stories behind the 150,000 deaths that occur each day. Certain deaths may be more profound than others, even if a loss of one life is not comparable to another. Death is the ultimate contradiction, both unique and commonplace.
A visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem offers profound insight into the 6 million Jews who died during the Holocaust, emphasized by the Monument to the Children in Yad Vashem honoring the estimated 1.5 million younger victims from the Holocaust. The death count under Joseph Stalin possibly tripled the number of Holocaust victims, although each evokes a different meaning around the globe. Both events eclipse, in number at least, the 200,000 Japanese civilians who died over two days in August 1945 following the nuclear bombs dropped by the U.S. While smallest in number of fatalities, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have not been dropped on any other city since, although mass genocide in parts of the world still runs rampant.
It is unfortunate and ironic that medical science, in part, focuses on the objective prevention or at least forestalling of death in a society that is totally incapable of doing the same. Finding ways to let medical science simply exist will always be challenged by regulatory oversight designed to preserve its integrity. Lessons from Tuskegee, Stanford and Davenport underscore the need to limit certain actions supposedly done in the name of medical research. At the same time, it is difficult to justify those that died from myeloid leukemia in the two and a half years it took to approve the medication Gleevec.
Actuarial tables notwithstanding, the human life is invaluable. Finding a way to depersonalize and demonetize medicine so that the science can exist in a proverbial vacuum, however, is impossible. At its most basic level, modern medicine consists of three parts: patients, providers and payers. Without sickness, universities would reclassify medical schools under the category of liberal arts. Without payers or other funding sources, an epic dearth of health care providers would catapult modern medicine into the realm of tarot card readers and fortune cookies. The product of this tenuous and parasitic relationship amongst health care’s trifecta exists today, often without much common sense and fleeting efficacy.
Lessons From A Pandemic
COVID-19 has defined a generation, the true impact of which will be studied for decades into the future, even though many of the pandemic’s legacies have already emerged. The U.S. has spent nearly $10 trillion on COVID-19 as the nation prepares for yet another possible surge. Whether or not this $1 million per fatality rate is reasonable depends upon the domestic and/or world-wide response to the next pandemic. With historical hindsight upon which to rely, the U.S. often fails to learn from such experiences. The foundation upon which modern society exists is paved with eggshells. The slightest disruption to a city’s power grid or even reduced access to critical resources such as food, water or toilet paper could send any major city into chaos. Efforts by federal, state or local authorities to emphasize disaster preparedness are largely ignored or simply do not exist.
Without justifying the number of deaths from COVID-19 or the devastation the pandemic brought to families and friends of the deceased, some lessons learned in the past two years may still be priceless. First, personal opinions apparently run deep when it comes to health care. Forty-nine years since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the nation has seen plenty of collateral damage stemming from the deeply rooted personal opinions throughout society. On one side of the debate, some espousing "pro-life" have destroyed clinics or even killed those health care providers performing such procedures. The other side of the debate has argued that such actions cause patients to seek medical care in places where its delivery is inferior, and maybe even dangerous. With COVID-19, an entire cottage industry of fake tests and fake vaccines has formed while others protested at Chavez Ravine, physically trying to distance individuals from vaccination.
More Lessons From COVID-19
Next, it appears a cloth mask has inspired much debate about its efficacy as well as its physical and emotional damage, all the while becoming institutionalized in schools and places where individuals gather. Moreover, those who refused to wear a mask faced repercussions in mask-friendly states similar to those who chose to wear masks in places where the mask was not welcome. Perhaps the agreement between the sides was the excitement in entering a financial institution wearing a mask and maybe even a cap, all without any recourse whatsoever. On the other hand, society has found yet another way to litter its planet.
COVID-19 afforded society other opportunities to learn more about its population. As one example, some individuals prefer more compensation for not working than less compensation while gainfully employed. Moreover, it appears that support for religious freedom included in the First Amendment may rival support for the Second Amendment, especially when it supports an opportunity to bypass the COVID-19 vaccine. And yet another lesson stems from the science behind quarantining and its malleability.
Time Usually Heals Everything, Eventually
Only the passage of time will provide the proper perspective on COVID-19’s threat to society as well as the collective response to the pandemic. Until then, society can learn much from its actions over the past two years, lessons that may prove to be invaluable should another epidemic appear, and especially one with a significantly higher mortality rate. This information can also be useful in salvaging a broken hospital system nationwide on the cusp of financial ruin. No matter how long the present “break” in COVID-19 lasts, now is the time society should focus on how to improve its response to a deadly, global virus. And perhaps society will, but only after the fighting between Russia and Ukraine ends.
Craig Garner is the founder of Garner Health Law Corporation, as well as a healthcare consultant specializing in issues pertaining to modern American healthcare. Craig is also an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.