When Dr. Kent Brantly tested positive for Ebola, he had a lot of advantages that the average Liberian did not. He was going to get top-notch care in Liberia because he was a coworker and friend of the staff. He would receive experimental treatments that were only made available (at that point) to the two Americans who were infected and not to the hundreds of Liberians who were dying of Ebola. He would then be airlifted in a one-of-a-kind aircraft and sent across the Atlantic Ocean to a world class health care facility.
Kent Brantly didn’t survive by complete accident, he survived due to extraordinary efforts made on his behalf.
And that is unfair.
It was still the right thing to do. Whoever got the ZMapp drug would have been unfairly selected, no matter who they were. Certainly that it was a white doctor aggravates long-standing racial and class tensions, but each life, be it Brantly’s or a poor Liberian, are equally precious.
Because it is very unfair to give the treatment to anyone. The only fair solution is to give the drug to nobody, and that would be completely wrong. Let us ask a better question, what will save the most lives?
When Kent Brantly was found to be sick, it inspired me and many health care workers like me to reconsider going to Liberia ourselves. I have since put a great deal of effort into going and going soon. When Kent Brantly fell, many of us felt the need to fill his place. The scarcest resource in all of this battle with Ebola is properly trained health care staff. We felt the need to go.
But getting me to Liberia is no small task. One of the biggest barriers I and my fellow health care workers face is the concern of our loved ones for us. They fear to lose us and don’t want to see us hurt.
If Kent Brantly had been abandoned to a fair fate, he would have died in Liberia and my own efforts to go would become harder. I am in the position of tell those I love that I might die there (but with good infection control measures, probably will not). To assuage their concerns, it is important that I am given extra treatment should I become ill. Kent Brantly’s special treatment helps me comfort those I care about that I will be cared for if I become sick.
If they don’t believe I will be helped, they will fight my going. If I don’t go, more Liberians will die. It is key that I and other health care workers go.
I know this argument is self-serving. I am saying that if I go I should be the one that gets doses of special medications and flights to wonderful hospitals. It does benefit me immensely to be an American who will be afforded these advantages should I become infected.
To be honest, I know that even with these treatments, I risk dying if I contracted Ebola. I am under no illusion that even these exceptional measures are certain to save my life. I am going because I am willing to die if it comes to it. What really matters is that if I die, someone else steps into my place in this battle. They will have to convince their wife, mother, and friends that they should be allowed to go.
So Kent Brantly should have been treated specially not because its fair, but because the most lives will be saved if we treat him differently. Because he was treated specially, I will go to Liberia. If I am treated specially, then hopefully someone else will step into my place. The result is that more Liberians are saved.
And that’s what we were trying to do in the first place.