The BBC is running a story about how there’s less volunteer help during disease outbreaks. Sometimes I wonder who funds these stories, and why the results are considered newsworthy. I realize the irony here, since I’m writing about it myself, but I’m writing about it because it is a non-story.
Eighty-four per cent of the 6,000 surveyed were willing to report for duty after an environmental disaster.
But just 48% said they would do the same during an outbreak of Sars.
Just over half – 57% – said they would work during a radiological event, and 61% in the event of a smallpox epidemic.
But any disaster involving mass causalities, such as a transport accident, would see 86% willing to work.
I wonder, sometimes, if common sense has any place in science. Common sense, while not always common, nor always sense, does play some role when it comes to things such as this. While common sense would say that the odds of having a coin land tails after flipping nine heads in a row would be more than 50%, this is not the case. Similarly, the idea that a heavy object falls faster seems as though it would be obvious, but objects fall with the same rate of acceleration regardless of weight.
So back to this study.
Kristine Qureshi, who led the research, said: “Although we might assume that healthcare employees have an obligation to respond to these high impact events, our findings indicate that personal obligations, as well as concerns for their own safety play a pivotal role in workers’ willingness to report to work.”
Robyn Gershon, associate professor of sociomedical sciences, at the Mailman School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, who also worked on the study, added: “Employers must recognise that their healthcare workers are likely to be as concerned or even more concerned about their safety than the average citizen, because they have a greater understanding of the risks involved.”
My response to that is “You don’t say?!” Honestly, health care workers are not automatons. They are living, breathing people with their own hopes and dreams and families to think of. While the idea of an utterly selfless doctor going off to fight SARS outbreak somewhere is attractive, the cost-benefit analysis of the situation must be evaluated. Does that warm, fuzzy feeling from doing the right thing, and a tax write off offset the risks to himself or his family enough to cause him to help out during an infectious outbreak?
One should not be obligated to put oneself in harm’s way for the benefit of another human being. No job or calling is so high that it can be required. This is true of police officers (who contrary to popular belief are not required to protect you) and doctors and firefighters. While codes of ethics and “typical” public servant behavior might make such behavior seem as though it were somehow mandatory, potentially sacrificing one’s life always comes down to individual choice.
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