June 2, 2023

Compulsion is necessary to fight Covid-19: Oxford bioethicist

There are three strong ethical reasons for making all three steps of fighting the virus compulsory

Lockdown is not only a policy for containing the spread of coronavirus; it is also an experiment in compulsory health measures. So far it seems successful and accepted – great sacrifices notwithstanding – in countries with very different cultural and political backgrounds.

Governments are on a roll. So why not make contact app tracing and vaccination compulsory as well? This is the question posed by Oxford University bioethicist Alberto Giubilini, in the Practical Ethics blog.

If we accept compulsory measures when the cost is very large (lockdown), we should accept compulsory measures when the cost is vastly smaller (tracing apps and vaccination), other things being equal. The justification for compulsory measures is stronger, the less burdensome the requirements are, other things being equal.

He argues that there are three strong ethical reasons for making all three steps of fighting the virus compulsory:

First, in all the three cases, the higher the compliance, the more effective the policy at containing the spread of the virus and at minimizing the economic, psychological, and societal costs of this pandemic. Compulsion will likely make compliance higher than alternative policies…

Second, in all three cases, not complying with the requirement would be an unfair form of freeriding on the efforts of others. Freeriding on important public goods – as collective immunity is – is not only unethical, but often prohibited by the law, and rightly so….

Third, the infringements involved would be much smaller than the ones we are already accepting in the case of compulsory lockdown. The benefits, though, will be much greater.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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