Systematic medical triage began during WWI when surgical treatment of injuries had a better than not chance of saving a life. However, there were a limited number of surgeons and surgical facilities and this and other necessities led to the very reasonable system of triage.
In the civilian version, triage identifies the most seriously ill or injured for immediate care, letting others wait that are less serious. This method puts the emphasis on trying to save everyone and is consistent with our Judeo-Christian heritage. This is what is done in every ER in America. This makes sense to us because we value every life.
Military triage recognizes the limitations of availability and supports the overall mission of the military to win battles. The motto of the Army medical corps is “To Preserve the Fighting Strength.” Given these unique parameters, military triage divides casualties into three categories:
A. Minimal–ambulatory with superficial wounds that can be treated in the field and returned to duty.
B. Serious–requires field treatment with evacuation to field or base hospital.
C. Expectant–dying with injuries incompatible with life despite maximal therapy; surgery futile (hopelessly wounded).
Care is provided in that order with the least injured the first to receive medical attention, consistent with the need to return soldiers to battle quickly so as to “preserve the fighting strength.” Then those with serious but potentially survivable injuries are treated next. Those with expectant injuries receive only palliative care, at most.
The practicality of the military triage system should be obvious even to progressives. The compassion of the civilian system should be obvious to those on the right and left alike. But civilian triage requires greater resources and expense. When we hold that every life is sacred and deserves life-saving medical care when needed we accept that we will have to shoulder the financial burden for this, at least in part. Most Americans are OK with this except when the system is abused by including non-urgent care and even elective care such as sex-change operations and abortions.
What Obama and the liberals are suggesting is that we adapt the military triage system for civilian use not for winning battles but for reducing costs. In either case, it is necessary to set priorities and ration available services for purposes that benefit the collective, but not necessarily the individual; winning battles or saving money.
There is another consideration in the plan advanced by central planners like Obama and his various czars. In the military the individual’s value to the mission at hand is an important factor. A platoon leader experienced with multiple weapons systems is more valuable than a private with no combat experience. In a government-run health care system, likewise, individual worth can vary depending on age, occupation and prospect of paying additional taxes. A 60 year old engineer that makes and pays taxes on $400,000 per year and is likely to continue to do so for 8-10 more years has greater value than the 70 year old retiree drawing Social Security and costing thousands each year in Medicare expenses. When resources are rationed, which do you suppose will be approved for that needed by-pass surgery? That is what we mean by “death panels.” There will be bureaucrats who will review cases according to certain triage protocols and decide who gets what; who lives and who will be allowed to die.
Military triage is a necessary contingency in the heat of battle, but applied to civilians for financial reasons alone it is cold, inhumane, and counter to our Judeo-Christian traditions of the sanctity of life.