Ebola: First, do no Harm

In response to repeated inquiries about travel bans to and from Ebola-riddled nations, Dr. Tom Frieden has said from his very first appearances onward, that our highest moral obligation is “to first, do no harm.” He claims that implementing travel bans would harm the very people we are trying to help -- that bans and quarantines would restrict humanitarian aid (despite the fact that exceptions can be made for charter and/or military flights to bring supplies and care in and out of the region) and disrupt economic and political stability in the region.  Moreover, he and other experts claim that there would be a negative impact on the economies of these already faltering nations. 

In fact, Representative Tim Murphy personally spoke to Dr. Frieden about travel bans and he responded that “cutting commercial ties would hurt these fledgling democracies.” Murphy further questioned the good doctor at congressional hearings about the source of his comment -- whether it was his opinion, the CDC’s, or advice from the administration or one of its agencies -- a question he conveniently ducked. But a quick perusal of the CDC’s Mission Statement at CDC.gov, proves that it is not tasked with the job of nation building or ensuring the economic success of any country. There is no way one could recast the words in its “Pledge to the American People” or the bullet points about the Role of the CDC, to read “Thou must first do no economic or political harm to any fledgling democracies.” The Mission Statement is ironclad about the tasks of the CDC -- even Obama himself, the Master of Slick Talking -- couldn’t make these words fit Frieden’s assertions:

CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

Americans care.  Most of us believe we have a moral obligation to help the people of West Africa as best we can, but our first obligation, the CDC’s first obligation and that of the government as a whole, is to its own countrymen. Since a travel ban does not have to stifle humanitarian aid, their argument -- that such bans would prevent aid and cause the outbreak to spread throughout Africa and therefore make us more vulnerable in the homeland -- gets a big F.  But, even if it were true that a travel ban would dampen the economies of these destitute and struggling developing nations -- already ravaged by war and now under threat from Ebola -- would anyone deny that our first obligation is, still, to protect our own? 

If there were some highly-contagious epidemic in this country but your family was safe in your home -- and you could keep them safe until the illness ran its course -- but your neighbor owned a store and needed your business so he could support his family, are you obligated to purchase milk and eggs at his store when you know all of the employees and the owner were sick with this illness?  Of course not. 

One has to question, how much economic damage would actually occur under a 3-6 month quarantine with travel bans and continued humanitarian aid?  The area is already impoverished, reeling from the after-effects of war and is now focused on containing the virus and dealing with all of the ill people in their own countries.  They will undoubtedly continue to be dependent on NGO’s and other nations for their economic survival for the duration of this epidemic, whether we travel to and from, commercially or not. 

No Judeo-Christian code of morality demands that you help your neighbor to your detriment. You might choose that course, but your first duty is to yourself and your family. To "first, do no harm” to another nation that would directly result in harming your nation, is suicide. Thus, to deny the implementation of travel bans and quarantines because of assertions that it would hurt Ebola-stricken nations -- even though this denial exposes heretofore Ebola-free nations to the virulent disease -- is morally wrong and amounts to signing a death warrant for thousands of Americans. Our public health system might be the best (although that has come under scrutiny the last few weeks), but you can never trace and track and isolate everyone who has been exposed, and the costs of doing so are tremendous. Moreover, as numbers of potentially infected victims mount, even the best public health system can become overwhelmed, especially with a disease that sinks its claws into healthcare workers first and foremost. Did you know they call Ebola the "Nurse Killer"? Why put ourselves there when it does not have to be the case?  

There is no panic yet, Shep Smith. There are no hordes looting stores, riots in the streets, pitchforks outside the White House. Heck , I haven’t seen anyone running through the streets with signs that the Rapture is upon us. People are still traveling, taking public transportation, working, worshipping, shopping, going to school, and eating in restaurants (except the one in Hopewell, NJ, to which NBC’s quarantined Dr. Nancy Snyderman and her accomplice selfishly absconded for some soup -- I guess the soup must be to die for). No panic yet. But the concerns are there:  is this government really making the right decisions about protecting the homeland?  Are their priorities straight?  Is their thinking logical? Why can’t we protect the homeland with travel bans and quarantines, while still rendering humanitarian and economic aid to Ebola-stricken nations? Again, as I have said numerous times in other posts, why the zero-sum game? 

No panic yet, but all the screening in the world and all of the promises of protocols and rehearsed procedures cannot mask the harsh reality that someone can exit and enter all of the countries on the planet -- seemingly Ebola-free after multiple screenings -- unknowingly carrying a deadly freeloader, set to go off after all the screenings and travel have been completed. After it is too late. After it has been on a plane to and from Cleveland, after it has gone to classes, after it has shopped at the mall.  

It is no different than a terrorist who comes into this country bomb-free only to don a suicide vest in the middle of a train station one day. The only difference, is he does it knowingly. With Ebola, the victims are unwitting accomplices and have no idea that during their journey they were a ticking Ebola time bomb waiting to go off at a time least expected in a country that has not had an Ebola problem. And we invite them in en masse?

No panic yet, but the underlying hysteria we all sense is the very slow, subtle drumbeat of awareness that at any time, as we let more Ebola stowaways into this country, all Hell can break loose. If the administration does not implement travel bans and quarantines, and because of that we have an outbreak, then, Shep Smith, you will see the panic, the pitchforks, and the pillaging.    

To the average Joe relying only on his wit, common sense, and education, it appears the experts and bureaucrats have abandoned all rational thought. Maybe, in their mind’s eye, they are living up to their moral obligation “to first, do no harm.” But, while they do no harm to others, they are blind to the harm they do to themselves and those under their immediate care.

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