Older Americans, the ones most vulnerable to COVID-19, should be the last in line to receive a vaccine when it becomes available, according to an argument put forth by one of Joe Biden’s top health advisers.
The Federalist reports Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who serves on Biden’s coronavirus task force, seemed to suggest in a September article that Americans over 75 should wait for the vaccine out of “fairness” to the rest of the world.
Emanuel, who also was an adviser to the Obama administration, has faced criticism for years for promoting ageist arguments. A bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, he wrote an article about how he wants to die by age 75 because life is not worth living past that point. He suggested other older Americans should consider “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.” He also wrote a piece in the New York Times encouraging Americans to “Skip Your Annual Physical.”
Now, he appears to be promoting a plan that would deny the coronavirus vaccine to those most vulnerable to die from the virus: elderly Americans. A vaccine could be available within the next several months after two companies announced final testing on a coronavirus vaccine this fall.
According to The Federalist:
In a Science article in September, in which Emanuel argued for distributing vaccine doses overseas out of “fairness” and argued against “vaccine nationalism” in which countries kept “too much” of the vaccine for themselves, he wrote, “we propose using Standard Expected Years of Life Lost (SEYLL) averted per dose of vaccine as the metric for premature death.”
This method renders the lives of people who have already lived beyond their country’s life expectancy as valueless. In the CDC’s definition, the cut-off is even sooner: only deaths occurring before age 75 are deemed “premature” and counted towards “years of potential life lost.” Yes, the very vaccine priority model Emanuel proposes would exclude those over age 75 from receiving a COVID vaccine, at least until availability is widespread and no shortages exist, globally.
It’s not clear if that also would apply to Biden, who is about to turn 78.
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For years, Emanuel has written and talked about how life loses meaning after age 75. In a 2019 interview, he said only a “small number” of people live well in their 80s.
“These people who live a vigorous life to 70, 80, 90 years of age — when I look at what those people ‘do,’ almost all of it is what I classify as play,” Emanuel said. “It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value — don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.”
Health leaders and bioethicists have been warning about Emanuel’s anti-life philosophies for more than a decade. In 2009, Betsy McCaughey, a former chair of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York, wrote:
As a bioethicist, he has written extensively about who should get medical care, who should decide, and whose life is worth saving.
Dr. Emanuel is part of a school of thought that redefines a physician’s duty, insisting that it includes working for the greater good of society instead of focusing only on a patient’s needs. Many physicians find that view dangerous, and most Americans are likely to agree.
According to Politico, Biden also is considering Emanuel as his secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.