Is There A Duty To Treat Unvaccinated Adult Patients?

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Is There a Duty to Treat Unvaccinated Adult Patients? Risking Life, Health, and Family For Russian Roulette Players

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Issues Around Providing Medical Care To Unvaccinated Patients

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 19, 2021) - Now that virtually all deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 are caused by people's own unwillingness to accept free and readily-available vaccines, some medical professionals are wondering to what extent they should reduce or curtail the medical care they provide to adults who willfully refuse to be vaccinated, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has documented numerous situations in which doctors have limited treatments to patients who refuse to quit smoking.

During the height of the pandemic when virtually everyone was inescapably at serious risk, many doctors and nurses were willing to risk their own health - and in some cases even risk the health of their own family members, and/or to isolate themselves for months at a time from them - to treat COVID-19 patients who were seen as totally innocent victims of a virtually unstoppable disease which put the life of every American in jeopardy.

Some were so moved by this need that they were willing to travel to other states, live in their vehicles or garages to protect their families, work long and dangerous shifts, etc.

But since COVID-19, at least in its most serious manifestations, is now stoppable - so, as the CDC director explains, we have only an "epidemic of the unvaccinated" - and those who become ill from infection arguably are no longer totally innocent victims since their own behaviors are making themselves ill, as well as putting many others at unnecessary risk, perhaps these same health professionals should not be expected to make such major sacrifices, suggests Banzhaf.

Also, in addition to placing anyone who may come near them at grave risk - especially children under 12, and those with compromised immune systems and/or medical conditions which prevent them from being vaccinated - unvaccinated patients who contract COVID-19 as a result of their own voluntary decisions are beginning to overwhelm some hospitals, forcing delays in obtaining serious operations and other medical procedures for vaccinated patients because scarce hospital space, as well as the time of medical personnel, are being used to treat a preventable disease, he argues.

Rationing Medical Care

This, of course, is what happened during the height of the pandemic, when many needy patients had to be turned away by doctors and hospitals overwhelmed by treating COVID-19 patients, and it is only one of many situations in which the availability of medical care must be rationed.

Moreover, if unvaccinated patients are treated in hospitals, or even in doctors' offices or stand-alone medical clinics, they create a totally unnecessary and easily preventable risk of death or serious illness to other people (including children and those with medical problems) who are there for life-saving testing or other medical procedures.

As a result, it appears that some doctors may be requiring their patients who refuse to be vaccinated without medical justification to limit most if not all of their visits to virtual ones over the Internet so that the doctors, medical staff, and other patients are not put at risk by a physical (rather than a virtual) office visit from an unvaccinated patient.

In this regard, Banzhaf notes that all patients, during the height of the pandemic, were often limited to virtual office visits, so it might not be unreasonable to impose these same restrictions on those few who are now creating the risks by their own voluntary actions.

Similarly, hospitals may want to reconsider whether they should limit the number of COVID-19 patients they are able to accept without putting off important operations for innocent persons with non-COVID-related problems (including heart attacks, strokes, emergency trauma injuries, etc.), and/or endangering their medical staffs and/or patients and other visitors, simply to accommodate people who gambled by playing Russian roulette with the COVID virus and lost, says Banzhaf.

Limiting Treatments To Patients

In the past, the professor, as a leader of the antismoking and nonsmokers' rights movements, has documented and helped explain why medical professionals sometime limited treatments to patients who refused to quit smoking. With regard to those who refuse to be vaccinated, the arguments for limiting their care may be even stronger for at least two reasons, he says.

First, it is often very difficult bordering on impossible for many smokers to stop smoking, especially because most are addicted to the drug nicotine. Thus quitting may involve major expenses for drugs, or clinical intervention, to help break the addiction.

For that reason, it may seem unduly harsh if not unreasonable to refuse to provide certain treatments unless and until a patient stops smoking.

But there are no such impediments today in the U.S. for adults who wish to stop being unvaccinated. Locations where people can be vaccinated are proliferating, and there is no cost to those who wish to be protected.

So any suggestion that it might pose a similarly unreasonable burden to require someone to be vaccinated, so as not to risk having only limited access to medical treatment, would not be persuasive.

Second, agreeing to treat people who refused to stop smoking did not create any added risk for the medical personnel, the hospitals, or other persons, so there was no added burden or risk to providing medical treatments to smokers compared with nonsmokers.

In stark contrast, treating unvaccinated patients, especially if they have already contracted COVID-19 and need medical help for that reason, risks medical staff and others, and takes valuable hospital space and limited resources (e.g., ICU beds, ventilators, operating rooms, etc.) from people in dire need who are innocent victims of other major medical problems, rather than losers of a deadly kind of pandemic roulette.

So, in light of the widespread availability of vaccines which have proven to eliminate virtually all the risks of death or serious illness from COVID-19, perhaps it's time to rethink to what extent many (vaccinated) should be expected to sacrifice for those few (unvaccinated) who choose to play Russian roulette with the COVID virus and everyone else's health, argues Banzhaf.

He also notes that concerns that treatment for COVID-19 (should they contract it) or other medical problems might be limited could discourage people from continuing to take this unnecessary but very serious risk by refusing to be vaccinated.