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  • Reverend James Squire

The Same Boat

Things continue to get worse with Covid still killing a thousand plus each day, hospitals are overrun by unvaccinated people who are in need of care in a hospital setting, and the political aspects of those who take and don’t take the vaccine. There is a nursing shortage which has seriously taxed the medical people who are understaffed and overworked. One region is 500 nurses short. Looking ahead, that shortage is going to get worse. Many think that the bleak outlook of not enough nurses coming out of nursing programs will create an impossible situation. It is not because men and women are not interested in pursuing that career but, as I learned recently, there are not enough instructors to teach them.

It is obvious that our medical care problem in our country is due to the large numbers of the unvaccinated. As a result of the irresponsibility of people who choose not to take the vaccine because it may infringe on their personal freedom, there is a growing number of people who would normally be treated in a hospital who can’t receive care. This includes cancer patients, those who would arrive in the ER, and the population of responsible people who would normally be cared for in a medical facility. Something is very critical that we are missing so we turn to bioethics to see what is missing and critical to solving this problem.

Our challenge is in the realm of autonomy vs. beneficence. We give the individual the right to make personal choices as long as it doesn’t affect others to their detriment or harm. We have been too polite to those who wait until they are in the hospital and have a conversion experience and want everyone to know that they should get the vaccine. We have governors who are seeing the golden ring of election to another prominent position “campaign” with the lives of children in schools at stake.

I saw on the news last night that an owner of a restaurant in Texas asked a couple to leave because they had masks on. They wore masks because they had an immune system compromised infant at home. That didn’t seem to matter to the owner.

We are living in the midst of a “slippery slope argument” where if you let injustices go time and time again, you will have a difficult time correcting the dilemma that you are in. At the top of our slope is Trump. We are seeing all the collateral damage that he has created. So, what is missing?

There is a Jewish story that is a simple tale in identifying our bioethics problem and the solution. It is based in one of the tenets of ethics in Judaism referred to as the Law of the Pursuer. That law states that you have a right and responsibility to intervene if someone is “pursuing” or threatening the health of someone else.

The story is about people on a boat. A guy decides to dig through the floor of his cabin. Water flows in. Other passengers are scared and angry. But it is his own cabin, one guy says, so why should it matter. It matters because we are all in the same boat.

What is missing is that we need to highlight the fact that we as a nation are in the same boat. We have framed the argument incorrectly. We have accepted that decisions about vaccination relate to personal freedom. They relate more to our personal survival as our health is being “pursued” or threatened by their actions.

We remembered 9/11 a few weeks ago. That was the last time that I can recall when we as a nation felt that we were all in the same boat. Terrorists could strike at any time in any place just as Covid does. Terrorists and Covid are equal opportunity killers. That is the image that we need. Can you imagine the Governor of Florida saying, “I am writing a law to take away all airport security because it is impinging on your personal freedom?” That’s not going to happen.

Second, we have been too polite. I have my own boating stories. I have done a lot of sailing on the Chesapeake. My neighbor has done a lot of open water sailing such as when he sailed to Central America and back. When you are on a sailboat with your friends who are very polite and dignified on land, you would be amazed at what happens when a sudden storm comes up when you are on a sailboat. A lot can happen in a short period of time on a sailboat that could sink you. You won’t hear people say, for example, please make that sail tighter to the main, or when you have a moment swing that boom around. If you are in danger in the middle of the bay where everyone’s safety is at stake no one is sitting around watching what others are doing. They are engaged. We need that level of engagement.

One clear, calm day I decided to take a 19 feet Flying Scott out by myself. It is a boat that technically requires two people to sail comfortably, one with the rudder and the other managing the sails. But on a calm day you can sail it solo. When I was far out, a sudden storm came up. I was tossed around the boat as I couldn’t do those two things, control the rudder and position of the sails, at once. They were beyond my reach. I wound up being driven far away from my home. My wife called the Coast Guard to see if they could find me. When I got back to my bulkhead, I was beaten up from being thrown around the boat. I learned at least three lessons. People stupidly believe that they can go it alone. I want my personal freedom. Know that the weather can worsen very quickly. Know what is realistic for what you need to do when danger is possible. In this case I would have given up my personal freedom in a heartbeat. Having someone else with me would have turned fear to a sense of knowing the reality of what could have happened by going It alone and not being realistic about possible further harm.

Our approach to getting the unvaccinated with a jab will not work. You can’t solve a problem by using the same solutions. We need to change the image from personal freedom to personal responsibility. Autonomy needs to become second, and beneficence first. We are in high seas and have been too polite and passive. Not confronting the growing reality will get us thrown about in a storm and badly bruised. It can happen quickly. Look at how fast people are dying because we don’t realize fully that we are all in the same boat. We know it in our head, but not in our heart and heart work is what counts.

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