Who you sue is who's got the right pockets. The contention at the heart of nurse Nina Pham's lawsuit against Texas Health Resources, owners of Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, is that her bosses at Presby told her her hazmat suit "was safe and that she was at 'no risk' of having contracted Ebola."
Wonder where they got that idea? On October 1, 2014, two days after Pham was assigned to care for Patient Zero, Thomas Eric Duncan, The Dallas Morning News, with a former Centers for Disease Controls public health doctor as its lead reporter, confidently proclaimed in a headline, "No additional suspected Ebola cases identified," (the link to that one is dead.). That story assured readers that, "Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with an infected person's bodily fluids, including saliva, urine or blood."
Wonder where they got that? They got it from their reporter's former employer, the CDC, which proclaimed confidently in a bulletin that Ebola can only be contracted through direct contact and that "direct contact means that body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, or feces) from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone's eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion."
And where did they get? Not from the research. Not even from their own previous bulletins, which expanded the possible means of transmission to include "objects," which would be ... pretty much everything.
In fact, as we told you here at the time, the research is not at all settled on Ebola transmission, with several papers suggesting the virus can survive and remain infectious in a variety of dry and wet media, even including the dreaded aerosol transmission, which maybe has to be a sneeze in the face more than just a free-floating virus in the air, but ... still. Getting sneezed on is not wallowing in somebody's feces, is it?
Science has not settled on a definitive means of transmission, not even on definitive parameters, and yet people who raised that point at the time of the Thomas Eric Duncan death were accused of fear-mongering.
What the infections of Nina Pham and Amber Vinson tell us -- and what's at the heart of Pham's lawsuit -- is that nobody at Presbyterian Hospital knew how Ebola is transmitted because nobody else knew. And yet loud public pronouncements to the contrary were made repeatedly.
Those pronouncements can be viewed as having legitimate political and social aims. We do know that Ebola is hard to get, not easy. We saw the ugly leading edge of public panic -- the dark place where panic can lead us -- in the stigmatizing of West African immigrants.
But as this lawsuit forces us to recognize, there also are real human costs in over-selling safety. The personal safety of Pham and Vinson obviously took a back seat to what leaders thought was the interest of public safety.
The point is that nobody's safety is served by lying. The clear impression promulgated by the CDC and by political leaders here was that we knew everything there was to know about Ebola transmission and that we had nothing to worry about. That was a lie. We don't know. And we do have things to fear.
People really mangle FDR on this score. Fear is not the only thing we have to fear if a bear is attacking us. The bear is what we have to fear. In this case the bear was Ebola.
I'm not making a case for panic. I am saying that Pham and Vinson suffered from the lack of a healthy amount of fear in the many levels of leadership on which they depended for their safety.
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As for who sues whom, I'm not a lawyer, so what do I know? Do I personally hold Presbyterian accountable, because they thought they had Ebola under control, when the CDC was publishing a bunch of blandishments to that effect not even supported by its own research? Everybody and his uncle was on TV telling people they couldn't get it. It's not like Presbyterian was operating in some weird parallel universe of its own.
I have the impression it's pretty hard to sue the CDC. I think it's easy to sue Presby. Doesn't mean it's wrong. If it were up to me I'd sue the world. Well, on a contingency (lawyer pays expenses).