Professor Brad Hooker
University of Reading
The Covid-19 pandemic poses new worries, stresses, and questions. Very many of these new questions are biological, medical, economic, or logistical. Many possible answers to these biological, medical, economic, or logistical questions have ethical implications, which ought to be considered. Furthermore, some questions posed by the pandemic are immediately ethical ones. These immediately ethical questions, as well as the ethical implications of various possible answers to questions of other kinds, deserve communal consideration. Thus, Ethical Reading plans to mount a new community blog to discuss the ethical issues resulting from the pandemic.
Perhaps the very first question for this blog should be: what are the most pressing ethical questions thrown up by the pandemic? We can distinguish between backward-looking questions—such as ‘who exactly mishandled the response to Covid-19?’ and ‘why does the UK have fewer hospital beds per head of population than other countries in Western Europe?’—and forward-looking questions about how to deal with this or that problem bearing down on us. Backward-looking questions are morally important, but they are less pressing in practice than the forward-looking ones. So what are the forward-looking ethical questions that are most salient now?
Three possibilities are:
- If there are not enough respirators to go around, should they be given to people with the most years to live if they survive, or on some other basis?
- How much risk to themselves is it morally right to ask health-care workers to shoulder as the pandemic spreads?
- Should the treatment of those suffering with Covid-19 be the same across the country, or is variation by location morally permissible?
However, rather than launch into trying to address any these three questions, let us start by considering whether there are more important moral questions posed by Covid-19. If there are, we should address those instead.
Discussions work best if people are careful about what they say, if they are much more interested in discovering the truth than in impressing others and winning debates, and if they interpret one another in the most charitable way possible. Now is the time not for fighting but for working together, including in the discussion of ethical questions presented by the virus. In that spirit, please identify more important moral questions than the ones listed above, or say that you think these questions are a good set with which to begin.