Woe from Italy: Many of us were too selfish to follow suggestions to change our behavior. Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying.

Woe from Italy: Many of us were too selfish to follow suggestions to change our behavior. Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying. By Mattia Ferraresi.

Until last week, the Italian public health care system had the capacity to care for everyone. Our country has universal health care, so patients aren’t turned away from hospitals here. But in a matter of days, the system was being felled by a virus that I, and many other Italians, had failed to take seriously. …

According to several data scientists, Italy is about 10 days ahead of Spain, Germany, and France in the epidemic progression, and 13 to 16 days ahead of the United Kingdom and the United States. That means those countries have the opportunity to take measures that today may look excessive and disproportionate, yet from the future, where I am now, are perfectly rational in order to avoid a health care system collapse. The United States has some 45,000 ICU beds, and even in a moderate outbreak scenario, some 200,000 Americans will need intensive care. …

Before the outbreak hit my country, I thought I was acting rationally because I screened and processed a lot of information about the epidemic. But my being well-informed didn’t make me any more rational. I lacked what you might call “moral knowledge” of the problem. I knew about the virus, but the issue was not affecting me in a significant, personal way. It took the terrible ethical dilemma that doctors face in Lombardy to wake me up.

I put myself in their shoes, and realized that everything should be done in order to avoid those ethically devastating choices: How do we decide who gets an ICU bed and who doesn’t? Age? Life expectancy? How many kids they have? Their special abilities? Is the patient’s profession a relevant factor? Is it right to save a middle-aged doctor who will save more lives if he survives as opposed to a younger person who’s been unemployed for the last 12 months? These are the kind of theoretical questions you are asked to weigh in leadership classes at business school. But this is not a personality test. It’s real lives.