A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is faced with two mutually exclusive choices and urgent reasons to choose each of them. And in the case of COVID-19, medical personnel are being faced with the moral dilemma of deciding which person lives and which person dies; not choosing will likely result in both patients’ deaths. Choosing between saving human lives and saving business ventures poses no such moral dilemma; lives and moneyRead more
A moral crisis arises when the expected outcome of all choices will contravene a moral principle, a personal value, or a social norm. COVID-19 presents such a problem – choice between ethically unpalatable options.
Choosing a mitigation strategy over a suppression strategy strikes a particular balance between expected loss of life and maintaining economic activity. Accepting the real possibility of a greater loss of lives than otherwise might occur has a ‘dirty hands’ feel about it – an example of the challenge of ‘governing innocently’ in a crisis.
The broader lesson for leaders and institutions is the need to prepare themselves not only for rapid action but also for the opprobrium that will come from confronting moral dilemmas.
Governments will face many more unavoidable ‘dirty hands’ type decisions.
Published in The Irish Times (and The Financial Times) on 24 March 2020, Martin Wolf focuses on the choices decision-makers face, writing that COVID-19 is not just an economic challenge, it is an ethical one. Making the right decisions requires that we understand the options and their moral implications. We now confront two fundamental sets of choices: within our countries and across borders. In high income countries, the biggest choice is how to aggressively haltRead more
Seeping faintly through the pronouncements and policies of some government responses to the coronavirus pandemic are the vapours of older belief systems; a whiff of utilitarianism, the scent of social Darwinism, and the fetid reek of eugenics.
Closer examination of the UK government’s ‘herd immunity’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that it’s not too farfetched to connect contemporary politics with these ostensibly outdated ideas.
The capacity of governments to respond appropriately to crises has never been more important. How will they respond to greater crises? Where will they find their moral moorings?Read more