A doctor giving an interview just outside the hospital where she works is worried. Will we be able to care for everyone?, she asks. We will have to make choices, some heart-wrenching choices, she adds. Who shall receive care? Which patients should be prioritized? That question has been answered since we have given priority of care to patients suffering from Covid-19 over so many other ill people. A forced choice as we faced the unknown, but would have it been better to prioritize the people who were ill instead of a sickness? The reality is that all types of care were affected and that the consequences of that choice remain unknown.
Jacques Gagnon, the CEO of Imagem, a firm that specializes in the development of healthcare technologies, says that from the moment we start categorizing human lives, we loose a bit of our own humanity. History has shown us many times that we have valued some people over others to varying degrees based on their skin colour, their race or their social status. Are we, today, such a long way off from that reality? When we accept to let our elderly die in residential and long-term care centres stripped of their dignity and establish mental disabilities as a criterion to not prioritize, we dehumanize. Do we know the value of having these people with disabling conditions with us?, asks Gagnon.
In other words, what is a life worth and how do we justify prioritizing some lives over others? Last summer, the French Canadian magazine “L’actualité” examined the issue and concluded that life, in effect, had a book value. In the article published June 1, 2020, the journalist, François Delorme, wrote that [following the 9/11 terrorist attacks] the families of single, poor or elderly victims received less money, proportionally speaking, than the families of victims who were young or rich or who had children.
During the pandemic, this given book value was prioritized. We chose to care for Covid cases in order to revive the economy as fast as possible. However, life has a value of another nature. Don’t we say that some human works have an inestimable worth? When the time to care for or to protect others arrives, what factors should we consider to guide our actions? In a setting of artificial intelligence, one would find an algorithm to use. Should a person’s age, material wealth, health status and profession be part of the equation? We know however that, as the American mathematician Cathy O’Neil puts it, “algorithms are opinions embedded in code”. In short, we can’t hide behind an equation; we must tackle the question.
Gagnon suggests that we be first and foremost empathetic. Our moral – and quite human – values lead us to regard with esteem all life despite what this life provides. No life is worth more than another. The only thing that should matter, says Gagnon, is that we should always save as many lives as we can.
As a businessman, Jacques Gagnon draws a parallel with the world of business. Within an organization, the value of an employee isn’t measured on the sole basis of his or her economic profitability. Their autonomy, sense of responsibility, creativity, teamwork skills and personal and professional experience, among other things, are all factors that need to be taken into consideration.
Consequently, thruth can perhaps be found in a life, in a life that has a beginning and and end, in a life that can only be assessed in its entirety, in its essentiality, in the greatness of its modesty. Who are we to choose between one or another?
We must be first and foremost empathetic. Our moral – and quite human – values lead us to regard with esteem all life despite what this life provides. No life is worth more than another. The only thing that should matter is that we should always save as many lives as we can.
Jacques Gagnon, EngineerCEO of Imagem