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He who imposes burdens bears the burden of proof

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Let us begin by wishing Governor Wolf an uneventful and speedy recovery from his symptom-free positive Covid-19 test. Let us also note tragically, that as I write, over 300,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid-19.

 

As most Pennsylvanians are now aware, the December 10 order from Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine closes indoor dining and prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Likewise, outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited while indoor businesses may only operate at up to 50% of capacity. Joining the list as totally shuttered are gyms, fitness facilities, casinos, museums, bowling alleys, and more. We are left with being able to stand in line for our bottle of Victory Gin at the 50% occupied and state-controlled Wine and Spirits store but barred from our elliptical for cardiovascular training in a gym no matter the occupancy.


As a physician there have been times when I felt it necessary to take a scalpel and cut into someone. However, there exists a moral presumption against such action, even if I believe it is justified. In such a situation the burden is not on the patient to convince me to refrain. Rather, the burden is on me to convince the patient that I should proceed. This is true despite my credentials in the field. 

 

Temporarily forbidding someone from working is not as serious as operating on them. But there remains a strong moral presumption against both. As to the former, individuals have a right and obligation, under natural law, to provide for themselves and their families. To interfere with this when it is not absolutely necessary is an offense against social and economic justice. 

 

Many pay lip service to these things, leveraging them for their own personal or political agendas. This is glaringly evident in these lockdowns. The liberal elites are protecting the low-risk college students and young professionals who can work from home, at the expense of the older, higher risk, lower-wage workers in old-line businesses in what may be the worst assault on the working class in half a century. Indeed, the affluent have been the biggest backers of the lockdown. Meanwhile, families at lower income brackets have struggled to reconcile working with childcare and remote/hybrid schooling models.

 

Those in authority must not treat permitting and forbidding people to work as equally legitimate courses of action. The latter requires evidence that there is no other way to prevent greater devastation than temporarily suspending one’s right to work. What are the compelling arguments for taking away the freedoms of so many citizens and furthering social and economic injustice? Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine state, “Two recent studies, one by Yale University and one by Stanford University, substantiate more than one of these mitigation efforts.”

 

They further wrote, “…  research from Stanford University that found that restaurants accounted for a significant amount of new infections.” This study is by Chang and colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University.  It is a computer model in which they simply reported the predictions of the model. They did not report observations of the real world. For most with any science sophistication, predictions based on computer modeling does not rise to the certainty that the governor’s “substantiate” or “account for” imply.  And for most of us who have watched either election cycles or pandemics, computer modeling and predictions have a way of missing the mark by a wide margin.

 

The other article is by Spiegel and Tookes of the Yale School of Management and is a multivariate linear regression analysis. It is a failed study that relies on “intuition” to parse data, contradicts observational epidemiology, and evaluates mortality rates only as a consequence of policy decisions. Interestingly, Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have ignored the findings that do not fit the Wolf/Levine dictate.  As an example, the aforementioned article states “At the same time, some policies may have been counterproductive: closing spas, closing risk level-1 businesses, reversing openings, and rules that limit gatherings to a maximum of up to 100 are all associated with higher future fatality growth in at least two of three specifications.” Tellingly, Spiegel and Tookes report reversing re-openings has a consistently adverse effect on mortality rates. Reversing re- openings is in fact the action of the latest Wolf-Levine order.


It is time for our politicians who regularly lecture us about “following the science” to actually heed their own advice. It isn’t those who favor relaxing the lockdowns who have the burden of proof. The burden is on Governor Wolf to justify his massive and possibly catastrophic interference with the lives and livelihoods of Pennsylvanians. His recent citings fail to meet the minimum standard. Short of meeting this burden, he must not prohibit human beings from exercising their fundamental right to support themselves and their families.


Gordon R Eck, D.O., D.Min., Chairman Republican Committee of Chester County

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