Not playing God

As we continue to weigh the incoming medical data on COVID-19, there remain a variety of other factors that require our consideration, not the least of which is the economic fallout of the stay-at-home quarantine. Attending to the public health, broadly understood, involves recognizing the interactions between a number of factors. At times, this seems like a grisly calculus between individual lives and the collective economy.

Unless we can think beyond the given paradigms to more creative solutions. Which is just what Robert Reed is suggesting in his recent blogpost at The Hedgehog Review. 

First, Reed considers the arc of the spreading virus, following (with links) various estimates of the spreading pandemic. Next, he looks at other micro examples of medical triage in disasters like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or that of the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Then, Reed points to the ethical training of medical students, pointing to their limited frame of reference, namely “three ethical theories.”

This [medical training] paradigm limits us by encouraging us to think we have solved the problem once we have finished the math,” says Reed. Rather than thinking strictly in preconceived categories, Reed argues that “we don’t want to be stuck conceiving of the situation as one that necessarily opposes the vulnerable to the economy in a zero-sum game.”

Reed might be onto something here, if we can find the right kind of flexible paradigm that allows us to continue to sort through data while recognizing competing moral demands that do not lend themselves to simple answers.


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