At Home Ethics During COVID-19

In my work at NWABR I often think about things with an ethics filter. The discipline of bioethics can sometimes seem like a hypothetical exercise, but this pandemic is the real deal and we need to listen to our ethicists. For me, the SARS-Cov-2 novel coronavirus pandemic highlights two key ethical dilemmas:

-How do we allocate scarce medical resources?
-How can everyone enact behaviors and choices that maximize the best outcomes for the most people?

I assert that there is an ethical imperative for each person to do their part to stretch resources and maximize positive outcomes. Many factors affect individual roles, therefore we all have different obligations to the ultimate outcome, and to one another, guided by our capacity. The ethical challenge here is that we have to examine our capacity to contribute honestly and with the sure knowledge that our contributions will not be cost free.

Here is my situation. I still have an income and live in a house with my three young kids. I am well-connected to a community and can work from home while I teach my three kids. I have asthma but otherwise we are healthy. I am hyper-aware that I have extra resources when many don’t have enough. How can I help others to maximize good outcomes?

My children and I are staying home. We aren’t out playing soccer with friends or touching playground equipment. When I get take out, groceries or packages delivered, I meticulously bring these items into my home. Everything seems to take more time during this season. I am doing my best to keep me and mine healthy so we do not have to use scarce resources; I even reduced my daughter’s dislocated kneecap to save mask use by first responders. We are supporting local restaurants and donating to non-profits.

Will it be enough if everyone does everything they can? I hope so.

Leaders and health providers across the globe right now are juggling these ethical issues on a huge scale. Who receives resource-depleting treatments? How much liberty do we need to forego for the common good? How do you balance the competing needs of the linked economic and health crises?

Biomedical ethicists have been dealing with such issues for millennia and have provided a range of ethical frameworks to help think through such constraints. Let us listen more to our ethicists as we continue to work through this pandemic.

Stay tuned for more on this topic!

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