Saturday, January 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial, excerpt five)

from Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink:

Pou and her coworkers were performing triage, a word once used by the French in reference to the sorting of coffee beans and later applied to the battlefield by Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief surgeon, Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey. Triage came to be used in accidents and disasters when the number of those injured exceeded available resources. Surprisingly, perhaps, there was no consensus on how best to do this.

Concepts of triage and medical rationing are a barometer of how those in power in a society value human life. During World War II, the British military limited the use of scarce penicillin to pilots and bomber crews. Before lifesaving kidney dialysis became widely available in the United States, some hospital committees secretly factored age, gender, marital status, education, occupation, and “future potential” into treatment decisions to promote the “greatest good” for the community. When this practice attracted broader public attention in the 1960s, academics condemned one Seattle clinic for ruling out “creative non-conformists . . . [who] have historically contributed so much to the making of America. The Pacific Northwest is no place for a Henry David Thoreau with bad kidneys.”

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