April 21, 2024

More about the coronavirus pandemic

One of the guidelines of the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics about the coronavirus pandemic (see below) is that “Liberty-infringing measures to control disease, such as quarantine and isolation, can be justified if the risk of harm to others can be significantly reduced.”

I agree, but I am still surprised at how few questions have been raised about the draconian restrictions on civil liberties prompted by the crisis. These are sure to lead to recession, soaring unemployment, bankruptcies, and social dislocation. They are the harshest that I have ever experienced in my lifetime – and, with few exceptions, there’s been nary a peep of opposition. In fact, my impression is that op-ed pages segued smoothly from anger at government overreach to anger at government underreach in a month.  

How long can lockdowns be sustained? As the Wall Street Journal points out, “no society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health.” I don't think that it is utilitarian to observe that deferring or suppressing discussion of the costs, financial and social, of our response to the coronavirus could backfire. Human dignity is paramount; acting ethically is essential. But good ethics is based on a knowledge of all the facts — and not just the facts about hand-washing. 

Michael Cook
What about ‘liberty-infringing measures’?