Amid this heartening outbreak of neighbourliness, however, an unsettling question is being asked. This particular plague doesn’t seem to threaten everyone equally. While the young are by no means immune, coronavirus disproportionately harms the old. So, some critics are murmuring, should we really be sabotaging the economy and the futures of the young to save grandma?
I didn’t want to interpret this crisis that way. But a liberal-minded friend in London forced me to think about it. “If I was a 40-year-old woman who had been denied a life-saving cancer drug because it was judged too expensive,” she said to me, “I wonder how I’d feel about throwing the whole NHS at a bunch of old people who were reaching their final years anyway. And damaging the futures of the young in the bargain.”
My shocked response was that this is a pandemic, and the usual rules can’t apply. The NHS sometimes uses a metric of “quality adjusted life years” when trying to make very difficult decisions. This considers the cost of each additional year of life that might be gained by a treatment and the potential quality of life gained.