It was back in my elementary school days when I could have political and philosophical discussions with my father. It was the golden years, before Viet Nam, and his Greatest Generation, WWII credibility still glowed for me. It didn’t matter that he had no visible skills or initiative, other than playing poker and dreaming, I still held him in regard, probably like most children do who aren’t abused.
He would talk about how our society wasted it’s time and effort prosecuting “victimless crimes”. To his way of thinking, prostitution, narcotic use, and his vice, gambling shouldn’t be illegal. “Society has no place victimizing, prosecuting, fining or jailing people who are just hurting themselves.” You can imagine a third grader pondering such wisdom.
But I did. Then, I found myself in medical school. The chronic alcoholics and drug abusers filled the ER bays and hospital beds. They took up my time, my energy. My fatigue, both physical and emotional made me start to feel victimized. Maybe that helped me learn to keep an emotional distance from others’ woes. It sure reminded me of my now estranged father’s wisdom.
When I came to Moscow, Idaho we would take turns being the “on call” doctor for unattended (non-paying) ER admissions. I remember watching one young man dying from his chronic alcohol use. His third admission in two months was particularly rough. He came to the ER skinny, covered in his own feces, unconscious, near death.
By the luck of the draw, I had been his doctor for the previous two admits and got him this time too. When he could talk, I asked him if he wanted to die. He would not answer me.
From all evidence he was doing just that, killing himself.
I had settled in Idaho, a state with my father’s political slant. If people are actively suicidal, they can be declared by the court to be a danger to themselves or others and committed to state custody. I asked the social worker if this man met those criteria. She shook her head. “Idaho statute prohibits commitment for alcohol abuse.”
Thus, to some extent, Idaho law protects the freedoms of people so inclined. I smiled as the quiet social worker explained this distinction to me. People with a mental disease who wish themselves harm and are going to act on it can have their freedoms taken away, but if they wish to drink themselves to death, the state keeps hands off. I think my dad would have appreciated this legal sentiment, though he might have taken it a bit further. “Why commit anyone to protect them from themselves?” I can imagine him saying.
So, when people refuse to be immunized or wear masks, I have an understanding of their choice. The fact that their choice affects others around them is not unlike the young man’s alcoholism. His family was distant, estranged. He lived on the street. If the ambulance hadn’t picked him up and brought him to the hospital, he wouldn’t be causing me problems.
The full hospitals now, the overflowing ICUs, the tired nurses and doctors have my sympathy. I can understand their frustration with the work they have to do.
But similarly, I can understand the refusers perspective too. I have chosen to be immunized. I think it will protect my health and those close to me. Other choices are valid but have their consequences. I do not feel safe from infection because of my immunization, and evidence suggests I am right. But the evidence is still coming in. We could fight about it all day.
Maybe that’s why Dad liked poker. He had to use the evidence he had and make his decision and the flop told you who won. This pandemic hasn’t come to the flop yet, though for many of its victims, it has.