by Roger McCay
27 December 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 25:1-12
Link to Audio Version
There is a lot of talk about the vaccine for the coronavirus these days. Many folks want it, and many folks (like me) are skeptical, with no plans on getting it. Regardless the position as to personally receiving the vaccination, though, most of us can agree that, in the vaccine’s distribution, high on the list of priorities would be to get the vaccine to certain groups of people first: first-line healthcare and emergency workers; our most vulnerable population, the elderly; and those who are particularly vulnerable due to health conditions. The reasons for this, at least for most of us, seem self-evident, right, good, and fair. Prioritize giving it to the folks who are most likely to be exposed as they help others along with those with the highest potential of dying from the virus, no matter their race, religion, creed, income, or what-have-you—if they want it.
Yet, some of the discussion at the CDC is alarming, and it is apparently affecting certain leaders’ ideas as to how the vaccine should roll out (you may have read or heard about some of this already in the news). There are those who are making recommendations that prioritize certain population segments over the elderly based on the issue of race. For example, the CDC approved unanimously the recommendations of Dr. Kathleen Dooling, who acknowledged that more lives would be saved if the elderly had priority access. Yet (and her slides are published online if you want to look at them), in her ethical decision-making, she has a consideration called “Mitigate Health inequities.” There she shows, and the CDC approved, the rationale that “non-healthcare essential workers” (which the New York Times points out comprises 70 percent of the work force) should get the vaccine before the elderly. Why? Well as she highlights, “Racial and ethnic minority groups [are] disproportionally represented in many essential industries,” and “Racial and ethnic minority groups [are] under-represented among adults [older than] 65.” Thus, the elderly should be moved down the list of priority (despite their have the highest morbidity rates). So, as another advisor to the CDC, Harald Schmidt, has said (quoted in The New York Times), “Older populations are whiter. Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.” Hence, according to such people, if you are an old white person, other categories of people who are not white should be prioritized over you to receive potentially lifesaving measures because you are white.
In a twisted way, it seems these folks think this is some sort of justice: payback for being white, I suppose. Yet the stated ethical rationale is utterly racist, with, lying behind it, a fear of forces who are filled with spiteful envy, who hold the threat of cancel culture, violence, and just plain being a screaming nuisance over the heads of decision makers. We’d have to do a state-by-state analysis to see how closely our state leaders are holding this CDC advice, and that information is also published online and being implemented even now. But if our leaders, making life and death decisions, succumb to this bully pulpit, or blindly make their decisions, following tainted guidance from the CDC or whoever, a reverse of justice is taking place, an injustice.
There are so many things that come in life that are or seem unfair or unjust. We could talk about the many people incarcerated who are innocent; unfair wages; the socioeconomic divide; one person being favored over another for seemingly arbitrary or prejudicial reasons; being born into a family that will give you all the advantages versus one that will burden you with all the disadvantages; people possessing good health versus people burdened with bad health; and on and on. And, perhaps, some injustice that happened to you still gnaws at you.
Of course, you all know the cynical question you hear sometimes when someone complains that something or other is not fair: “Who told you that life is fair?” And while that’s not always true, the fact is that sometimes we do not get justice in this life. Sometimes we don’t get what we are due or think we are due. Sometimes, as the saying goes, bad things happen to good people. Sometimes the government comes through, and sometimes not. That’s just living in a fallen world.
Now, are such truths reasons to despair? And, where is the Lord in all this?