So is Andrew Speaker public enemy No. 1 or just a poor guy with a bad disease who did whatever he could to get home before dying in an Italian hospital?
To answer this question, we need to know what Speaker knew and when he knew it. By his account, he knew he had TB before he left for his wedding and honeymoon in Europe. He says his doctors told him they “preferred” he did not travel, but they did not forbid him. When pressed by Speaker’s father, who is a lawyer, as to the reason why Speaker shouldn’t go, they were assured that Speaker posed no danger and it was just to “cover themselves.” Speaker’s father reportedly videotaped the meeting with the doctors.
When Speaker got to Italy, he was informed by U.S. health officials that he had a deadly form of TB, highly resistant to drugs. He knew that the only place he could be treated was in a hospital in Denver, Colorado, and that if he didn’t get back home, he could die. Even though he was told to surrender to Italian authorities and enter an Italian hospital, Speaker tried to think of a way to get back home. He was told that he would not be flown back to the U.S., not to take a commercial jet, and that a private jet cost upwards of 100,000.00. So he did the only thing he thought he could do to insure his survival… He boarded a commercial jet to Canada and drove across the border back into the U.S. so he wouldn’t die in an Italian hospital.
Luckily for Speaker, the border agent ignored the warning that popped up when his passport was entered into the computer and let Speaker cross into the U.S. Speaker was supposed to be detained and isolated and turned over to authorities. Instead, Speaker turned himself in once back in the U.S., believing that he would end up where he needed to be for treatment in Denver, Colo.
People are outraged by Speaker’s actions. They call him selfish. They blame him for causing an international health scare. They feel he risked hundreds of lives just to insure his own survival. They say he placed his life and well being over the lives and well being of everyone else. They want to know whether he can be sued, or prosecuted.
I, on the other hand, wonder what Speaker did wrong? And, I ask, what would you do if it were you? Would you walk like a lamb to slaughter into an Italian hospital, knowing the treatment you need exists in only one hospital in the world, which is in the United States in Denver, Colorado? Would you effectively commit suicide so as not to risk the greater good? Are you that altruistic, selfless?
Secondly, was he really that sick, contagious, or a threat to others? According to Speaker, he was told he was not contagious before he left, that he could have contact with his wife and family, and that he was not endangering anyone. Once in Italy, when told of the type of TB he had, he believed he was told that he was no more contagious than when he left. In his mind, “So what had changed?” He wondered why his government and country was abandoning him and essentially stranding him, leaving him to die. He took it upon himself to go home.
The irony is that Speaker is a lawyer, his father is a lawyer, and his father-in-law works at the CDC in the TB unit. If anyone knows their way around the law and TB, it is Andrew Speaker. For him to have decided he was not breaking any criminal laws, that he was not walking into a civil lawsuit, and that he was not running afoul of the CDC means he was probably well-informed and used excellent deductive reasoning to get home safely and save his life.
To those who say otherwise, I ask what proof they have that he a) broke a law; b) infected anyone; c) risked anyone’s life; d) acted immorally; e) was contagious?
I wonder whether in the thicket of information and misinformation, he didn’t act reasonably under all the facts and circumstances, as he knew them to be at the time.
As it turns out, he wanted the treatment, was not trying to elude authorities, is horrified to think he put anyone else at risk, or subjected anyone to the panic and alarm that has been his daily fare for weeks. While many say his apology rings hollow and falls on deaf ears, I say in the absence of clear information that he was highly contagious, a carrier of a deadly communicable disease, a walking “Typhoid Mary,” he was smart to get himself home and not be stymied by information that was less than clear, at best.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating that one risk the lives of others to save oneself. Nor do I applaud careless, reckless, thoughtless or selfish behavior. I am a firm believer in the big picture, and looking out for the greater good. I just don’t believe that in Speaker’s case, he really believed he was a public health threat. I believe he knew he had to get himself home, and he had to do it any way he could. His government was not going to help him, Italy could not cure him, and instead of being bullied by conflicting information, he chose to think for himself, logically, legally, and carefully, with the advice and counsel of his lawyer father and CDC father-in-law.
If in the end, he was not contagious, did not put anyone’s life at risk, and did the right thing by getting home, many of you still might say, lucky for him that it turned out that way, but what he did was still wrong. In other words, don’t let a happy ending justify a morally messy means. On the other hand, if he was contagious, and other people do become ill, I would argue no one, most of all Speaker, really understood the situation he was in because he was not forbidden to travel. He felt perfectly healthy, had no symptoms, and had been working full time and running. His CDC father-in-law let his daughter marry him and travel with him. He was with his wife’s 8-year-old daughter. If he was public enemy number one, no one made that clear to him.
I don’t believe Speaker is the selfish kind of person he is painted to be. I think he thought it was okay to go, refused to be stranded there, got himself home and turned himself in, and wants to live a normal healthy life after successful medical intervention. Too bad it turned out this way for him, but the country has learned a valuable lesson.
While we are prepared on paper to handle medical outbreaks, we don’t really know how to carry out quarantine and isolation. The laws of quarantine and public health are untested and unclear, the procedures unfamiliar. Now we know. If we don’t learn from this, shame on us.
As for Andrew Speaker, hopefully, he will recover from his bout with TB. And hopefully, he will recover from his bout with the media.