The ethics of preferential treatment are even more acute as the country stares down a pandemic. “What we’re facing right now, is unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced in medicine,” Clarke told me. “Our motivations should be driven by public health,” he said, “and for folks who are coming in potentially with COVID-19, it doesn’t matter if they’re a CEO of the big tech company a homeless person off the street: they need to be appropriately cared for.”
“I don’t think there’s room for that flexibility of tiered care that we see in times of plenty,” Clarke said.
Still, for now, the rich will take advantage of the privileges they have. They can go to a better facility, and may be able to skip the line upon arrival, Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine, told me. “Many hospitals will fast track a wealthy donor,” he said. “They’re not going to sit in the ER waiting or isolation room. You get to go quickly.”
Even Members of Congress have care immediately on hand through the Office of Attending Physician to Congress, a fully-staffed office that can make recommendations to send lawmakers to world-class hospitals for top-of-the-line care with the stroke of a pen.