Ethics In A Pandemic (updated 28 May)
There has been, and will continue to be, much written during this coronavirus outbreak about the application of ethics to the decision-making processes in hospitals, the halls of power and the institutions which have traditionally shaped our lives – public and private. Our CEO Vanessa Pigrum and Lead Moderator Peter Mares have both written on these topics.
In our personal and professional lives we are being asked to act in the best interest of our communities, our families, our employees and our businesses. It can be overwhelming. When life does eventually begin to return to ‘normal’, what will that be? There will be a lot written about that too.
We’ve already shared some articles and podcasts on these topics – you can find them on our site on the news and alumni curated content pages, and our social channels – LinkedIn and Twitter. As the impact of the outbreak shows no sign of lessening in the immediate future, and the volume of content on current and future ethics and virus-related issues grows, we will be gathering some of the more thought-provoking pieces here as they are published. Please revisit periodically to read or listen to newly added thought pieces.
Justifying Lockdown A brief essay on lockdown measures, considering the scope and limits of different types of arguments that can be offered for them. The uathors hope that understanding the complexity of these issues will go some way to helping us understand each other and our attitudes toward state responses to the pandemic. Ethics & International Affairs May 2020 Read the full article here
How Do You Want Your Leadership In Crisis To Be Remembered? There’s nothing like a crisis to shine the spotlight on the true leader in someone. Leadership qualities, both good and bad, are magnified. So, here’s a question: What do you want people to remember about your leadership in crisis? Five critical things effective leaders do in crisis. Forbes 14 May 2020 Read the full article here
How to Lock Down an Open Society Social distancing measures may continue to be necessary in waves through 2022 and maybe even until 2024. Thus far, governments have taken a three-pronged approach to ensuring compliance: moral appeals, reduced opportunity, and deterrents. Why do people voluntarily comply with the measures even when there is limited enforcement, even when they have the opportunity to break the rules, even when they disagree with the measures, and even if abiding by the measures costs them socially and economically? Research reveals that people are more willing to comply with rules when they believe the rules are made and enforced in a legitimate manner. Legitimacy requires that people participate in the decision making about how the measures are created and enforced. Ideally, truly open and democratic societies would excel at ensuring legitimacy. But these are no ordinary times. Behavioral Scientist 7 May 2020 Read the full article here
Canadian Tim Bray quits $1 million job as Amazon engineer to protest firing of warehouse ‘whistleblowers’ “Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets,” Tim Bray, a vice president and veteran engineer with the company’s cloud-computing division wrote. “It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison.” Bray quit in reaction to Amazon’s firing of whistleblowers who were concerned about the safety of warehouse conditions during the pandemic. Bray raised concerns about the firings internally. Having done that, he said, “remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.” Financial Post 4 May 2020 Read the full article here.
Is It Ethically Okay to Get Food Delivered Right Now? Unless you produce your own food, some combination of you and other humans has to transport it from wherever it’s made to your stomach. In normal circumstances, most people don’t dwell much on that fact, but during a pandemic, it makes deciding just how to procure sustenance highly fraught: Because every option comes with potential negative consequences for you and others—cashiers, shelf stockers, delivery people, restaurant workers, and so on—it can seem like there’s no right way to get dinner. For example, is it better to cook at home or get food from a restaurant? Getting takeout means leaving the house and potentially spreading or catching the coronavirus (and ordering delivery means shifting that risk onto someone else). Meanwhile, sticking to your own kitchen is safer for everyone involved—but it means not financially supporting workers and businesses that may desperately need the money. And if you cook, you still have to get groceries somehow, which again means either you or someone else going outside to transport the food. This article is an attempt to work through specific food dilemmas such as this one, including the ethics of getting delivery and how often you should go to the grocery store. In a lot of cases, there are no right answers, but establishing all the trade-offs makes it possible to feed yourself in a way that doesn’t feel wrong. The Atlantic 16 April 2020 Read the full article here.
UN urges countries to ‘build back better’ after COVID-19. As the world begins planning for a post-pandemic recovery, the United Nations is calling on Governments to seize the opportunity to “build back better” by creating more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies. “The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his International Mother Earth Day message. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.” The United Nations is devising a blueprint for a healthier plant and society that leaves no one behind. Actions are being taken across the United Nations system to ensure a more resilient future. UN 29 April 2020 read the full article here.
Why Stay-At-Home Orders Might Be Good For Gender Equality Most men expect that their careers will take precedence over their female partners’—and they are usually right. Most women expect that their career will be valued just as highly as their male partner’s—and they are often wrong. This asymmetry is clearly illustrated by a large-scale study of female and male graduates of the Harvard Business School. Given the U.S. is unlikely to “age” out of these two highly gendered domestic patterns, Andie Kramer wonders whether a prolonged period of forced togetherness could result in real change. Forbes 1 April 2020 Read the full article here.
It didn’t have to be this way. A bioethicist at the heart of the Italian coronavirus crisis asks: why won’t we talk about the trade-offs of the lockdown? Younger generations have been asked to make huge sacrifices for older generations, with the expectation of only very limited benefits for their own health – and some big repercussions for their own physical and mental wellbeing, including the closure of universities and loss of opportunities to work. This is also the generation that will have to pay off the bulk of debts we’re now accruing to pay for government assistance packages. Beyond family ties, the moral basis for this request isn’t obvious. On the one hand, we’ve asked a lot from younger people, without really making the case for those policies. On the other hand, when younger generations make demands of older generations – for example, about climate change and the future health of the planet – older people in power seem to have a hard time accepting them. After asking younger people to do so much for the elderly during this crisis, perhaps we ought to give them something in return. Aeon 27 April 2020 read the full article here.
The Good Problem – Peter Mares and ethics in the time of Covid-19. Host Leigh Matthews and Cranlana Centre’s Lead Moderator Peter Mares talk ethics in the time of Covid-19, and what an ethical framework looks like in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. The Good Problem, 10 April 2020. Listen to the full podcast episode here.
How the coronavirus pandemic is (finally) resulting in leadership for the greater good. In the space of six weeks, the threat posed by COVID-19 and the sudden absence of partisanship from the political landscape have ushered in a focus on leadership for the greater good, the likes of which we haven’t seen for years. Leadership for the greater good occurs when leaders create value for society in a manner that is transparent, accountable and ethical. Once conspicuous by its absence, it now seems to be everywhere, and gratifyingly so in the institutions where it counts most. The Conversation, 24 April 2020 Read the full article here.
Why ‘Mandatory Privacy-Preserving Digital Contact Tracing’ is the Ethical Measure against COVID-19 Privacy concerns around the tracing apps being rolled out by a variety of governments is inhibiting their uptake. Cansu Canca, Founder & director of AI Ethics Lab, says thanks to privacy-by-design technology, population-wide mandatory use of digital contact tracing apps (DCT) can be both more efficient and more respectful of privacy than conventional manual contact tracing, and considerably less intrusive than current lockdowns. She argues that, even if counterintuitive, mandatory private-by-design DCT is the only ethical option for fighting COVID-19. Medium, 10 April 2020. Read the full article here.
Epistemic Humility—Knowing Your Limits in a Pandemic “Ignorance,” wrote Charles Darwin in 1871, “more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Darwin’s insight is worth keeping in mind when dealing with the current coronavirus crisis. Overconfidence—and a lack of epistemic humility more broadly—can cause real harm. In the middle of a pandemic, knowledge is in short supply. We don’t know how many people are infected, or how many people will be. We have much to learn about how to treat the people who are sick—and how to help prevent infection in those who aren’t. There’s reasonable disagreement on the best policies to pursue, whether about health care, economics, or supply distribution. Although scientists worldwide are working hard and in concert to address these questions, final answers are some ways away. Epistemic humility is an intellectual virtue. It is grounded in the realisation that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence. Behavioral Scientist 13 April 2020. Read the full article here
Coronavirus Is Putting Corporate Social Responsibility to the Test. The way large companies respond to this crisis is a defining moment that will be remembered for decades. Many talk about having a social purpose and set of values, or about how much they care for their employees and other stakeholders. Now is the time for them to make good on that commitment. Research suggests that people only truly believe that their company has a purpose and clear values when they see management making a decision that sacrifices short-term profitability for the sake of adhering to those values. This article suggests some things that companies can do to help their employees, small suppliers, health care providers, and communities. Harvard Business Review, 1 April 2020. Read the full article here.
Open letter from 174 Australian economists: don’t sacrifice health for ‘the economy’. In recent weeks a growing chorus of Australian commentators has called for social distancing measures to be eased or radically curtailed. Some have claimed the lives saved by the lockdowns are not worth the damage they are causing to the economy. Others have claimed the case for easing is strengthened by the fact many of the hardest hit by COVID-19 are elderly or suffering from other conditions. Some might expect economists, of all people, to endorse this calculus. But the 174 economists who signed this open letter categorically reject these views, which they don’t believe represent the majority of their profession. “We believe a callous indifference to life is morally objectionable, and that it would be a mistake to expect a premature loosening of restrictions to be beneficial to the economy and jobs, given the rapid rate of contagion. It is wishful thinking to believe we face a choice between a buoyant economy without social distancing and a deep recession with social distancing. In a world with COVID-19, there are no good choices.” The Conversation, 20 April 2020 Read the full letter here.
Thinking a Pandemic. We’re often told that COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, one that’s upended all our old certainties. So it’s perhaps strange that we’re thinking about it in very familiar ways. In a time of crisis, the patient, slow process of deep reflection — the kind of reflection that places everything we think we know up for grabs — can seem like an unaffordable luxury. But considering the history, the politics and the ethics of COVID-19 can reveal fascinating and uncomfortable insights about ourselves and our society. ABC The Philosopher’s Zone 19 April 2020 . Listen to the episode here.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet. The coronavirus pandemic may be the largest test of political leadership the world has ever witnessed. Every leader on the planet is facing the same potential threat. Every leader is reacting differently, in his or her own style. And every leader will be judged by the results. German Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces science. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejects it. U.S. President Donald Trump’s daily briefings are a circuslike spectacle, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds no regular briefings at all, even as he locks down 1.3 billion people. Jacinda Ardern, the 39-year-old prime minister of New Zealand, is forging a path of her own. Her leadership style is one of empathy in a crisis that tempts people to fend for themselves. Her messages are clear, consistent, and somehow simultaneously sobering and soothing. Her style would be interesting—a world leader in comfy clothes just casually chatting with millions of people!—and nothing more, if it wasn’t for the fact that her approach has been paired with policies that have produced real, world-leading results. Some are cautioning that while Ardern and many young European leaders have expertly navigated the coronavirus crisis, this new generation of leaders still have to handle what comes after it, noting that strategic decision making and crisis decision making are very different. The Atlantic April 2020 Read the full article here.
A lockdown diagnosis: I call a patient I’ve never met and tell her she has weeks to live This moving piece by oncologist, Cranlana alumna and writer Ranjana Srivastava on delivering a terminal diagnosis via telehealth goes to the heart of what technology cannot replace. The Guardian 15 April 2020. Read the full article here.
What ought one do? COVID-19 a quandary of ethical decision-making Many situations we now find ourselves in daily leave us with the question asked by Greek philosopher Socrates: “What ought one to do?” In this climate of COVID-19, it feels like there has never been a time where we’ve been so collectively asked to make ethical decisions on almost every aspect of our lives. How do we make these decisions when there aren’t always black and white/right or wrong answers? Having an ethical framework may assist us with deeper reflection about our decisions, and reassure us that we are making the best decisions we can with the information we’ve got for the greater good and for the people we love and care about. There is much to be lost in COVID-19, but there is also much to be gained (or regained) in how we live our purpose, our values and demonstrate our humanity to not just our loved ones, but also strangers. The Mandarin, 8 April 2020 read the full article here.
Amsterdam to embrace ‘doughnut’ model to mend post-coronavirus economy “When suddenly we have to care about climate, health, and jobs and housing and care and communities, is there a framework around that can help us with all of that?” Kate Raworth, author of the best-selling 2017 bestselling book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, says. “Yes there is, and it is ready to go.” While straining to keep citizens safe in the Dutch capital, municipality officials and the British economist Raworth from Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute have also been plotting how the city will rebuild in a post-Covid-19 world. The conclusion? Out with the global attachment to economic growth and laws of supply and demand, and in with the so-called doughnut model devised by Raworth as a guide to what it means for countries, cities and people to thrive in balance with the planet. The inner ring of her donut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals and agreed by world leaders of every political stripe. Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole. The outer ring of the doughnut, where the sprinkles go, represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. Between the two rings is the good stuff: the dough, where everyone’s needs and that of the planet are being met. “I think it can help us overcome the effects of the crisis”, said Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, Marieke van Doorninck. “It is to help us to not fall back on easy mechanisms.” The Guardian 8 April 2020 Read the full article here.
Principles for a policy response to COVID-19. In addition to the pressing public health crisis, Australia, like so much of the world, currently faces an unprecedented public policy challenge. Few of the specifics of the response to that challenge are yet clear and it would be foolhardy of anyone to pretend otherwise. Nonetheless, it is crucial that as policymakers make the key decisions over the next few weeks and months that they are guided by the right principles. Otherwise decisions will be made which might be extremely difficult to row back from and which might render the situation worse both in the short and the longer term. As such, it is vital to engender clear-minded public debate as to what those principles should be and for us all to play a part in assisting decision-makers in these moments of deep stress. In the paper the Sydney Policy Lab outlines their own five core principles. They put them forward both in the hope that they can guide policymakers now and that they can stimulate widespread discussion about the best way in which to take Australia forward. University of Sydney. Read the full paper here.
‘The impossible has already happened’: what coronavirus can teach us about hope “You realise that life has to be lived well or is not worth living. It’s a very profound transformation that takes place during catastrophes.” Disasters begin suddenly and never really end. The future will not, in crucial ways, be anything like the past, even the very recent past of a month or two ago. Our economy, our priorities, our perceptions will not be what they were at the outset of this year. The particulars are startling: companies such as GE and Ford retooling to make ventilators, the scramble for protective gear, once-bustling city streets becoming quiet and empty, the economy in freefall. Things that were supposed to be unstoppable stopped, and things that were supposed to be impossible have already happened. The outcome of disasters is not foreordained. It’s a conflict, one that takes place while things that were frozen, solid and locked up have become open and fluid – full of both the best and worst possibilities. We are both becalmed and in a state of profound change. Hope offers us clarity that, amid the uncertainty ahead, there will be conflicts worth joining and the possibility of winning some of them. And one of the things most dangerous to this hope is the lapse into believing that everything was fine before disaster struck, and that all we need to do is return to things as they were. Ordinary life before the pandemic was already a catastrophe of desperation and exclusion for too many human beings, an environmental and climate catastrophe, an obscenity of inequality. It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency, but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it. The Guardian 7 April 2020 Read the full article here.
COVID Innovations is a website bringing to together inspiring initiatives from around the globe in response to the current outbreak. Created by TrendWatching and its sister-site Business of Purpose. They’re adding inspiring initiatives to this site on a daily basis, for as long as it’s needed. April 2020
Guide to the Classics: Albert Camus’ The Plague This fictive chronicle of the measures taken in the city of Oran against a death-dealing disease that strikes in 1940 has been picked up again by many as isolation has meant more time for reading and contemplation. Unlike some philosophers, Camus became increasingly sceptical about glorious ideals of superhumanity, heroism or sainthood. It is the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things that The Plague lauds. It is ordinary virtue, people each doing what they can to serve and look after each other, that Camus’ novel suggests alone preserves peoples from the worst ravages of epidemics, whether visited upon them by natural causes or tyrannical governments. It is therefore worth underlining that the unheroic heroes of Camus’ novel are people we call healthcare workers. Men and women, in many cases volunteers, who despite great risks step up, simply because “plague is here and we’ve got to make a stand”. It is also to these people’s examples, The Plague suggests, that we should look when we consider what kind of world we want to rebuild after the gates of our cities are again thrown open and COVID-19 has become a troubled memory. The Conversation 6 April 2020. Read the full article here.
A coronavirus spike may put ICU beds in short supply. But that doesn’t mean the elderly shouldn’t get them. For many clinicians, the question of who has access to limited ICU beds presents disturbing challenges, especially in view of a widely disseminated proposal that has gained particular support in Italy. This bases decisions about who is granted access to ICU beds on calculations of the future years of life that could potentially be achieved through treatment (or, in some proposals, “quality adjusted” years of life). This would deny access to people above a certain age as well as to people with disabilities and certain medical conditions. The Conversation. 6 April 2020. Read the full article here.
‘Left with nothing’: Australia’s migrant workforce face destitution without coronavirus safety net. Lead Moderator Peter Mares commented on the hugely complex and evolving set of problems facing governments trying to counter the economic devastation of the Covid-19 shutdown. But he said Australia had an obligation to support the temporary migrants it had invited into the country and on whose labour the Australian economy depends. “I would argue temporary visa holders need to get some sort of support if they are stuck in Australia and they can’t go home and can’t find work. People cannot be left with nothing, with no income to survive. People also need to be supported as a public health issue. “We’re seeing both the implications of high levels of casualisation in the workforce and high levels of temporary migrant labour in the workforce, and what happens when their jobs suddenly disappear.” Mares said Covid-19 had wreaked havoc on Australia’s migrant labour market, in some cases in contradictory fashion: some local mayors were telling people “don’t come to our shire”, while farmers in the same shire were urging potential workers “we still need labour”. “In some cases too, we still need that labour, it’s important that produce gets picked, it’s important that temporary visa holders working in aged care or as cleaners in hospitals, stay in that work, that is essential.” The Guardian. 1 April 2020. Read the full article here.
How Coronavirus Is Shaking Up the Moral Universe. The coronavirus pandemic is a test. It’s a test of medical capacity and political will. It’s a test of endurance and forbearance, for believers a test of religious faith. It’s a test, too, of a different kind of faith, in the strength of the ideas humans choose to help them form moral judgments and guide personal and social behaviour. The epidemic forces everyone to confront deep questions of human existence, questions so profound that they have previously been answered, in many different ways, by the greatest philosophers. It’s a test of where all humans stand. Several philosophies of social justice have claimed wide adherence in the modern world. They do not line up neatly with party political labels, and most people have sympathy for more than one. Here is a guide to some of the leading idea systems undergirding competing conceptions of right and wrong. Each is being put to the test. As you are put to the test, which do you choose? Bloomberg 29 March 2020 Read the full article here.
Ethics in a time of scarcity. Political leaders, medical experts and news anchors keep telling us we’re all in this coronavirus pandemic together. For this genuinely to be the case, we must also share a commitment to ensuring that our efforts to limit the spread and impact of the virus are needs-based and fair. And that’s much more difficult when the resources needed to preserve lives and livelihoods are in short supply. An ethical framework for dealing with the pandemic has international, national, community and personal dimensions. They play out in the familiar conflict between the needs and desires of individuals and of the group, and in the ability of the well-off, and well-off countries, to get more benefits than the disadvantaged. Decisions made by policymakers in times of crisis, and how the community responds hold up a mirror to our national ethos. Do we like what we see? Inside Story. 29 March 2020. Read the full article here.
This pandemic is an ethical challenge. Unlike the virus, humans make choices. This pandemic will pass into history. But the way in which it passes will shape the world it leaves behind. Australian Financial Review. 25 March 2020. Read the full article here.
Our leaders must aspire to more than just excellence. They also need the ethical courage to make the right decisions – at the moments it matters most. That’s why Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to strengthening wise and courageous leadership, was created. We draw on more than two millennia of philosophical thinking to foster in-depth, practical discussions that sharpen critical reasoning and strengthen moral courage. Leadership requires courage. By understanding the fundamental philosophies that underpin our society, today’s leaders can learn to critically examine the ethical impact of their actions – so they can help build a better society together.