Salvageable Adj: capable of being saved from ruin;
I was shocked the first time I heard my then boss asking a PG if the patient was “salvageable”. Comparing sick people to shipwrecks didn’t seem respectful or right but before long I found myself asking the same question when dealing with a sick patient, particularity one who was very sick and needed expensive and intensive care.
If the patient was not “salvageable” and there was a “salvageable” patient waiting for that bed, then by unsaid rules, less time, effort and money would be spent on him/her, particularly if the patients relatives could not afford the treatment.
The truth about the god-like (read: Inhuman) choices that doctors working in resource-limited circumstances is rarely spoken about outside medical ethics seminars. On the rare occasion a news paper, a novel or even a sit-com decides to take up the topic, it receives nothing more than a few over the shoulder cliché’s about how real life is different from the books.
Chances are, no senior doc will sit a house surgeon down and explain tenderly that while all human life is sacred and deserves equal effort in saving, the ground realities force us to give preference to the young, the “salvageable” over the old or “un-salvageable” patients. That this does not make the old, terminally ill patient any less important or deserving of ones time and effort.
Yet day after day, thousands of “cases” are categorized and differentially treated. It is foolish to think that our actions do not affect us, the rare some learn to love humanity and do their best to bridge this unfair and gap while others learn to value life in terms of productivity and “salvagability” and are forever condemned to be less than human, for that is what you turn into, if you cannot see sanctity of life.
Someday, I hope there is reckoning and justice for the young lives scarred by the inhuman task they were given though we are not mere victims of our circumstances.