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Making value judgments about life and death


Apologies to those of you who have never watched “24”, but there are some cracking Jack Bauer jokes. My favourite is this one: “If Jack were in a room with Nina, Hitler and Stalin and he had a gun with two bullets, whom would he shoot?” The answer is “Nina – twice”! Boom!

A couple of weeks ago I received an email asking me to take part in a scientific survey. I have no doubt that the survey is being used to compile an academic paper as I write. The email said:

The COVID-19 crisis showed that it is pivotal for policymakers to understand how individuals perceive information and make decisions.

We are conducting a global online survey among scientists to explore the opinions of a large number of different scientific disciplines. You have received this email because your contact email appeared on a recent peer-reviewed scientific publication with an impact factor. As a scientist, we would like to invite you to participate in our study.”

The COVID-19 Survey

The questions started off ascertaining views on lockdown rules, what I thought about my government’s reaction, how scientific I thought it had been, how I thought actions had been generally received in my country and how I personally had modified my behaviour. There were some judgment questions related to this too, so that the researchers could evaluate both what I had done and what I felt about what I had done (what I had been compelled to do in effect) and what I would have liked to have been done.

That was interesting enough but then the really interesting questions came along – in the Patient A and B section. I was given the scenario that I manage a hospital in my local community. Currently only one bed in Intensive Care is free. Patients A and B arrive at the same time and I need to make a choice. There was an option to decline to decide, but this came with the caution that time would be wasted while someone else was found to make the decision (and you’re the boss after all).


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