Ethics in Emergency Times: The Case of COVID-19

Philosophies 7 (3):70 (2022)

Abstract

A disaster is an occurrence disrupting a community’s normal functioning and existence. The disruption may render it impossible to comply with principles and to respect, protect, and fulfill rights as it happens in ordinary times; it may induce an overwhelming shortage of resources and make tragic decisions unavoidable. From its very beginning, the COVID-19 pandemic evoked the scenario of disaster medicine, where triage is likely to imply not simply postponing a treatment but letting someone die. However, it is not only the health care system that faces disruption risks. Lockdown measures and other restrictions were imposed to curb the pandemic, impinging upon individual freedom as well as economic activities. The proposal of mandatory vaccination implied a suspension of the principle of autonomy, which is a fundamental pillar of modern medicine. Out of the ordinary balancing efforts may be required, and two questions arise. Do such exceptional circumstances suggest reconsidering the criteria to apply, especially when essential, life-saving treatments are at stake? Who should decide? Science offers the premises to build on, but the last word does not belong to science. It remains the province of ethics and politics.

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