Tuesday, September 8, 2009


For a couple of years now, people have asked me to blog, and I have shied away from it for a variety of reasons. However, I have decided to take the plunge and give it a shot. On this blog, I hope to share thoughts on things that I am reading or podcasts to which I am listening or watching, and send you the accompanying links in the hope that you may enjoy them also.
I hope you find it meaningful and worth your while.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Memorial Hospital after Katrina and how the staff there handled the care and evacuation of those they thought were terminally ill. Here's the link. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/magazine/30doctors.html? You may have to sign up for the free NYTimes On-Line Subscription.

In addition to the article being incredibly sad, it raises powerful and difficult questions about the decisions people have to make in times of crisis. All of us face choices at times, and sometimes those choices are between two equally bad alternatives; rarely, though, are we confronted with the dilemmas that faced the staff at Memorial Hospital. While it may seem easy to sit in judgment of those who had to make these difficult decisions, it would be simplistic and wrong to do so.

This article can also be extrapolated to other situations where people have to choose between two outcomes, neither of which may be desirable. In the case of Memorial Hospital, the administrators were literally choosing who would live and who would die . This type of dilemma is called A Morton's Fork. As Wikipedia says, "A Morton's Fork is a choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives (in other words, a dilemma), or two lines of reasoning that lead to the same unpleasant conclusion. It is analogous to the expressions "between the devil and the deep blue sea" or "between a rock and a hard place." The expression originates from a policy of tax collection devised by John Morton, Lord Chancellor of England in 1487, under the rule of Henry VII."

"His approach was that if the subject lived in luxury and had clearly spent a lot of money on himself, he obviously had sufficient income to spare for the king. Alternatively, if the subject lived frugally, and showed no sign of being wealthy, he must have substantial savings and could therefore afford to give it to the king. These arguments were the two prongs of the fork and regardless of whether the subject was rich or poor, he did not have a favorable choice."

I hope that as you read the article and consider the difficult and life-determining decisions that faced administrators at Memorial Hospital, you are able to apply it in some way to the choices that you face in your life. While the consequences for the situations facing us may not be as dire, we all find ourselves between a rock and a hard place sometimes and it may help to read how others have handled it.

In addition, as parents and as educators, we often discuss with our children/students how they make difficult choices. Reading this article may provide food for thought on how to advise them as they grapple with seemingly irreconcilable conflicts and choices between competing alternatives, neither of which look palatable.