Pandemic Ethics and Status Quo Risk

Public Health Ethics 15 (1):64-73 (2022)
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Abstract

Conservative assumptions in medical ethics risk immense harms during a pandemic. Public health institutions and public discourse alike have repeatedly privileged inaction over aggressive medical interventions to address the pandemic, perversely increasing population-wide risks while claiming to be guided by ‘caution’. This puzzling disconnect between rhetoric and reality is suggestive of an underlying philosophical confusion. In this paper, I argue that we have been misled by status quo bias—exaggerating the moral significance of the risks inherent in medical interventions, while systematically neglecting the risks inherent in the status quo prospect of an out-of-control pandemic. By coming to appreciate the possibility and significance of status quo risk, we will be better prepared to respond appropriately when the next pandemic strikes.

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