Intent is so important a driving force in human causality that it’s codified into law. It can mean the difference between a charge of first degree murder and a charge of manslaughter. In the penalty phase of a murder trial whether or not a convicted defendant intended to murder someone or they did so by accident can sometimes mean the difference between life in prison and a suspended sentence and probation.
Far from a legal or abstract or academic consideration, in everyday life we make important practical judgments about a person’s intent all the time. It matters to us if someone accidentally said something rude to us or if they said it because they were intentionally being cruel. A lie ceases to be a lie if the person speaking was genuinely mistaken about something. It’s another matter altogether if they were deliberately trying to deceive us.
Sometimes we judge intent harshly even when the intent is good but it’s guided by stupidity. We have compassion for a parent who is unable to afford medical attention for their children. We have open contempt for a parent who refuses medical attention for their children because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Medical professionals are no different from the rest of us and they are now facing an awful reality that is coming into direct conflict with their professional Hippocratic ethic to do all they can to help a patient. Doctors and nurses across America are today faced with an alarming number of patients who are infected with COVID-19 because they refused to be vaccinated. Those patients are now seeking help for a disease they once claimed was a hoax and loudly and openly flouted measures to prevent it. They are the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who advised others to join them. More and more of these people are coming into hospitals every day, and medical professionals are sick of them.
It’s a phenomenon known as Compassion Fatigue, and medical professionals are running out of their ability to care whether the patient lives or dies. The patient isn’t in front of them because they intended to get vaccinated but couldn’t. The vaccine is now free and available to everyone. The patient is in front of them because they never intended to get vaccinated in the first place, and they are making the lives of medical professionals a living, daily, incessant hell.
The principal reason the pandemic in the United States is not over today is because many people are deliberately not getting vaccinated. The refusals are rooted in wilful ignorance. Those refusals mean people refusing are now getting sick, they will need care and they may die needlessly. It’s getting more and more difficult for doctors and nurses to treat such people with civility.
Hospitals are running out of resources, particularly in red states, and anti-vaxxers are the reason why. At the current rate it may be impossible for people to get treated in time to save their lives, and doctors and nurses will have to start making grim choices. Those choices could be life and death choices.
The brutal calculus of reality could literally come to this. There could theoretically come a day when being an anti-vaxxer is a self-imposed death sentence without any avenue for appeal. There could come a time — again theoretically — when resources are no longer stretched but broken, and triage decisions could include refusing medical attention for the deliberately unvaccinated.
My compassion is reserved for the medical professionals who will need to make that decision. As easy as it is for us to sit comfortably in our armchairs and condemn anti-vaxxers to a hypothetical death, such real-life decisions will create life changing trauma for real medical professionals.
To a less draconian extent doctors and nurses are already making those traumatic choices and the toll is visible. Many are quitting or taking early retirement. Many are turning to therapy or even drugs and alcohol. Thanks to the anti-vaxxers, America is headed for another wave of COVID-19 infections. It’s even possible that, thanks to anti-science ignorance, the pandemic may never end.
If deciding not to vaccinate is “just a personal choice” then starting a nuclear war is “just a personal choice.” If you’re still an anti-vaxxer then you’re not just stupid you’re extravagantly stupid, the same way the 9/11 terrorists were stupid. May shame and infamy and dishonor be your lot — forever. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.