Sunday, July 16, 2006

How Many Boats Can We Afford To Build?

The ethics question known as the “lifeboat dilemma”: say there are twenty people on a sinking ship, and the lifeboat only has room for fifteen. How do you decide who gets on the boat? An infant or a 60-year-old man? What if the man’s a medical researcher close to making a great and important discovery? An elderly saint or a young criminal? Lots of tough questions. Here’s another: if a storm has trashed the whole neighborhood except for a single storm shelter, must you let a potentially dangerous person in? What if you just don’t have what it takes to accommodate him?

Mentally ill hurricane evacuees were often discriminated against during relief efforts last year, to the point of being banished from shelters or institutionalized against their will, a government report says.
The National Council on Disability said Friday it was common practice after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to segregate people with psychiatric problems. The council called the segregation hurtful and illegal.
Some lived outside relief shelters. Others huddled in corners behind barriers and away from other people. Some were shipped to nursing homes, jails or mental institutions.

The article goes on to mention volunteer organizations like the Red Cross who are targets of the NCD’s ire:

In its report, the council also cited shelter conditions that were often "crowded, noisy, confusing, and sometimes violent, all inadequate circumstances for a person with psychosis, anxiety or depression."

I wouldn’t call “crowded, noisy, confusing and sometimes violent” adequate circumstances for the mentally stable, either. As for such discrimination being illegal — maybe it is when they’re criticizing a government agency like FEMA. But can you make such criticism of a volunteer organization? Can you tell a volunteer “you are not doing enough, and unless you do even more you’ll be breaking the law?” And suppose the Red Cross does in fact manage to build enough quiet, spacious, comfortable shelters for the mentally ill: doesn’t that discriminate against the healthy people forced to stay in the noisy, violent hellholes?

Now assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s the government’s job to make sure everybody’s taken care of when a storm comes through. Disasters like Katrina have shown that the government’s not doing too well. Clearly, improvements must be made. But resources are limited. What should it do first: improve the miserable shelters used by the majority, or invest in specialized accommodations for those whose mental disabilities leave them even more vulnerable than the healthy people?


Anonymous happyjuggler0 said...

Ok, I'll be the first to say it for you Jennifer. The NCD, whoever they are, are well and truly fucked in the head and should be shot for gross stupidity.

Here endeth the anti-pc rant.

11:18 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

NCD = National Council on Disabilities.

Here I am trying to build this blog persona of "tough ass-kicking feminist woman," yet I require a man to say what I couldn't bring myself to. Thanks, Happyjuggler.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous A. Moose said...

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, excluded people from its trailers because of concerns that psychiatric disabilities made them dangerous, the report said.

Of course, the article also describes how the situations were so terrible, so why would they want to anyway? Or, conversely, the situation was bad, disorienting, etc, and could cause a psychotic break, so perhaps they were dangerous?

That said, recommendations actually were much more benign:

Evacuation planners should track the transfer of residents from group homes and psychiatric facilities, and ensure the residents can contact family members and caretakers.

No problem, to the extent that everyone should have such. The problem with Katrina was a complete blowout of communications system. I know, as I'm an amateur radio op (HAM Radio is the nontechinical definition), that there were a number of volunteer radio ops that were down there for months. One of the good things to come out of Katrina was a series of protocols designed to do exactly this for everyone, being able to contact family/support people.

People with mental illness should be included in disaster planning and relief planning.
A single office or official should be made responsible and accountable for helping the disabled during recovery and relief efforts.

I'm assuming that they are describing planning for accounting for people with mental illness. There are enough planners with mental illness in the mix already, they're well represented. Then again, if one can walk on water...who worries about hurricaines?

The council also asked Congress to clarify "Good Samaritan" legislation that would encourage doctors to volunteer and treat patients during a mass disaster without fear they could be sued.

Eliminating any opportunity to play LottoLaw is a good thing to my thinking, so I can't argue with this.

Katrina was a good example of how society breaks into a bunch of pieces when things get really bad. It's also a good example of how we should fight dependency on the govt. Those who weren't simply swept away, not much to do there, who were self sufficient, didn't fare as bad as the media would have us believe. Those who jumped with both feet into govt dependence found there was no bottom.

I would point out, in the spirit of fairness, that everyone walked away with their own interpretation of the significant lesson of Katrina. The NRA found the firearm confiscation as their banner issue(which I thought was ridiculous, confiscating defensive firearms just to ensure people are good victims...look at DC...but I digress, though the NRA is pandering it to the extreme now), the Amateur Radio community found the ability to link and transfer much higher volumes of communication was a hole. The Civil Defense people found they didn't have a plan, and winging it by renting cruise ships (not a bad idea, but poorly executed by the Contracting Officer) is probably not the best course of action.

Me, I just laid up another few months of food and water purification equipment, dressed up the comm shack, got a couple new batteries and a solar charger, and figured I'd wait for the bird flu....

Sidebar: "...tough ass-kicking feminist..." I been married to a redhead for 20 years. I know how y'all get.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous A. Moose said...

What should it do first: improve the miserable shelters used by the majority, or invest in specialized accommodations for those whose mental disabilities leave them even more vulnerable than the healthy people?

Infected by verbosity that I am today, if it wasn't inherent in my first (too long) post, my answer is to invest in those who need help and strongly encourage those who can to be self sufficient. This will be hard for the govt, as it's designed to to the exact opposite, but it's the only way to really take care of such a large scale disaster.

9:23 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Coleridge writes somewhere that moral puzzles and conundrums are designed to dull the moral sense, not enhance it.

In short by making it appear to be a calculation, as if the categories are fixed enough to allow that. When the fluidity of categories is what makes it moral in the first place.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous happyjuggler0 said...

I was trying to think of acronyms for some silly reason just now. I couldn't think of a good one for NCD, but I did come up with these while trying:

BIG IDIOT, formerly known as DARE. Bully In Government, I Don't Imbibe Or Toke.

Your blog's acronym, ROAFG, is an anagram for A FROG. Hmmmmm.

ROAFG might stand for Roll Out A Fattie, Girl.

Or of course Roll Out A Fattie, Guy.

Or Rock On, Another Fuckin' Genius.

Or Read On And Fiendishly Grin.

Or it could stand for Redheaded Ornery Ass-kicking Feminist Great.

Or Reasonite On A Free Gig

How about Reduce Our Amazingly Fat Government.

I could go on, but they might start getting bad after a while.

11:03 PM  

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