“If can save even one life, it was worth it.”
This isn’t a new statement or idea, but we’ve been hearing it a lot lately as some public officials discuss how we need to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, has been saying this as the case and death toll expand in New York. It’s his justification for every step he takes.
And because no one wants to look heartless or careless, no one will address the concept.
But I will.
This idea is, in fact, a horrible way to address public policy of any kind.
The fact is, people die every day. It’s part of life. It’s part of living. Taking the emotional aspect out of it makes it sound cold, but it’s also a realistic, if not harsh, truth. People die.
Because people die, it’s about what happens while they’re alive that matters. If you have to institute a policy or make a decision that significantly downgrades the lives of millions, is it really worth it if we save one life?
We essentially won World War II ourselves. Yes, we had the help of allies, but our decision to drop not one, but two, never-before-seen atomic bombs put an end to it. We know there were significant debates about whether or not to use them.
What if we hadn’t? How many people died because of the bombs? How many more people would have died if we hadn’t used them? There’s obviously no way to know, but what we do know about military plans we would have pursued had we not used them suggests the loses would have been greater.
But you can back up further and say what if that had been our approach to entering the war? Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and Roosevelt says to the nation, “We’re not going to participate in this war. I know we were attacked, but it’s too dangerous. If we save just one American life by not going, it will be worth it.”
What would history look like? What would America look like?
We don’t know how many Americans will die due to this virus. And we don’t know how many people will lose their jobs, their way of life, and who knows what else if we keep ourselves locked down.
But it looks like the number of coronavirus deaths will be in the tens of thousands while the number of unemployed Americans will be in the tens of millions.
Is this a fair trade? Better to save one life and have millions in misery? Or better to restart and have thousands in mourning?
It’s not an easy choice, to be sure. But life isn’t just about staying alive. It’s about living. And as a politician, you are responsible for everyone, not just a few.
I’d like to think if someone asked me if I should be saved at the expense of the country or if they should go on without me, I’d tell them to go on.
In fact, many have unconsciously made this decision for the United States, and I think many would make that decision again.
But I say, if opening the economy saves just one life, it will be worth it.