Caring and risk

One of the basic realities of the medical profession is that caring for the sick may at times involve risk to physicians and others who are providing that care. Sometimes the risk is relatively minor such as when we care for those with minor respiratory infections and may become ill ourselves. That seemed to happen to me every time I was on a pediatrics rotation during my residency. Sometimes the risk is much higher such as when Dr. Kent Brantly and others at the missionary hospital where he worked in Liberia chose to care for people who were dying from the Ebola virus. Dr. Brantly became infected with the Ebola virus in spite of all the precautions that were taken and was fortunate to survive. While we understand that there are some risks that it may not be reasonable to take, and it is appropriate to take all available precautions to minimize risk, there is an understanding within the medical profession that taking a certain amount of risk is part of doing what is best for the patients that we serve.

However, this understanding that it may be necessary to take on what is at times a significant risk in order to care for those who are in need is not limited to physicians and those in other related medical professions. This is a characteristic of the church as well. John Donne expressed this not just in his poetry, but in his life when, as a parish priest in London during the plague, he chose to stay and care for the dying when almost everyone else who had means to do so was fleeing the city.

Currently as a nation we are dealing with a situation in which caring for those in need involves a certain amount of risk. Refugees fleeing from the violence in the Middle East are in need of our care, but caring for them involves a risk of exposing ourselves to the terrorists who are causing the violence that they are fleeing from. It is appropriate to take reasonable precautions just like we take precautions to avoid the spread of infectious disease, but our fear of risk should not keep us from caring for those who are in need. This is a time when the church needs to stand up and say we are willing to take some risk to care for those who need our help, and show our nation that we should care for those in need even when it means some risk to ourselves.

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Mark McQuain
Mark McQuain
3 years ago

Let me state at the outset of my reply that I agree with your medical analogy as it pertains to individuals, wonderfully demonstrated by Dr. Brantly, who place others above self to show Christian compassion and charity at great risk to themselves.

However, using the infectious disease analogy at the population level, why would we be wrong in temporarily restricting immigration from a country were there was an outbreak of an ebola-like infectious disease, where the signs and symptoms were poorly described, at least until we had a better method of screening for that disease?

We would still praise those like Dr. Brantly for freely volunteering to travel to that country, clearly placing his life at risk, and help with treatment of those locally exposed to that disease. What a wonderful witness of the love of Christ. But I believe we would rightly condemn the CDC for not taking steps to avoid the risk or actual spread of that disease to the general population here. Temporarily restricting travel from that country to this country is one such step.

I do not believe it is the government’s place to require its citizens to act in a supererogatory manner. I believe your call for Christians to individually act in such a manner is correct.