Sheri Fink Speaks: The Two-Minute Case Against Limits

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sheri fink quoteWhom would you choose? There’s this group of researchers in Maryland (no be Maryland wey dey for Ikeja o!). And they decide to go around the state asking groups of regular people how they would propose to ration lifesaving medical care if there ever were a big disaster and no way to treat everyone.

Should it be first come first served? Or a lottery? Should they take people with the best chances of survival, or who might live the longest after they were saved? Should the youngest get priority? The oldest?

Philosophers going back to Aristotle have struggled with questions similar to this outside the realm of medicine: Who gets the goods of society when there’s not enough to go around?

Of course there’s no perfect answer. It’s a question of moral values, which is why the researchers are out there asking the public. If nothing else, guidelines can be created justly and openly. But here’s what happens.

The people resist answering the question. They offer all kinds of crazy ideas for how to avoid needing to ration. This frustrates the researchers, who try to force them into answering the question. But some of the ideas are wonderful: New medical devices that don’t require electricity. Organizational efficiencies that would stretch resources longer.

This kind of creative thinking and improvisation is exactly what I’ve seen save lives in disasters. Often in life, the most important question we can ask ourselves is: do we really have the problem we think we have?

Sometimes I worry about how dependent we’ve become on our smartphones and electronic gadgets, on long distance supply chains, on commodities and food prepared by others, how vulnerable we might be when all that fails. Some vital infrastructure — bridges and levees, hospitals and nursing homes — is vulnerable. Then I think about that innovative, can-do attitude.

That refusal to accept limits, quintessentially American. A student nurse says: on my ward we won’t give up on anyone. It is unrealistic. It is exactly what might save us.

Sheri Fink Speaks at



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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