Originally posted 22 March 20
The coronavirus pandemic is upon us. This novel virus has disrupted lives, killed people, and wreaked havoc with our economy. COVID-19 has also raised novel ethical questions and generated ethical duties for the public, health professionals and the government. Just as our health system has been caught off guard, so have our ethics.
The general principles that guide care for individual patients are the duty to help the sick and respect their autonomy. The general principles that guide public health ethics are concern for the common good and justice. In the current crisis, these principles all come into play. We are in this together. Even if the personal risk for an individual is not great, the risk to the common good is immense. But the measures taken to mitigate the effects of the virus must be just and fair.
The duties for the general public are not arbitrary. They might seem mundane, but they are important and ought to be considered truly ethical duties. Obey the rules: We owe this to each other. Wash your hands. Keep six feet away from strangers. Don’t shake hands with, kiss or hug strangers or acquaintances. Disinfect surfaces where the coronavirus might linger. Self-quarantine if you become sick. Call or email your doctor through an encrypted system or telemedicine connection.
Unless you are experiencing life-threatening distress, don’t rush to the emergency room where you could infect people having heart attacks or complications of cancer. Don’t hoard food, disinfectant wipes, or toilet paper. Don’t spread false and alarming rumors on social media.