Ethical Decision-Making in the Covid-19 Crisis

Monday, May 11th, 2020, 17:37 WIB

Wednesday Forum

Photo: Volunteer delivers aid during Covid-19 Pandemic

Wednesday Forum Report

Written By: Jekonia Tarigan

On 29 April 2020, the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) again held Wednesday Forum online with Zoom and YouTube live streaming. On this occasion, the lecture was given by Professor Christine Gudorf, retired Professor of Religious Studies at Florida International University. The topic delivered by Gudorf, entitled ‘Ethical Decision-Making in the Covid-19 Crisis”, is exceedingly relevant to the current situation most countries in the world are facing. In addition to the interest of the topic, there was also great enthusiasm from the student body and public due to the prior suspension of Wednesday Forums. More than 120 people joined the discussion through Zoom and YouTube.

In her presentation, Gudorf argued that many ethical issues accompany the health issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gudorf began her presentation explaining statistics from the United States, which according to her form the basis for the ethical dilemmas the pandemic raises. For example, in New York City, persons with at least one comorbidity, such as hypertension or diabetes, were the most vulnerable to infection and death. In New York, the number of deaths for males (59.6%/10,114) was significantly higher than that of females (40.3%6,843). 

Poverty is another concern. In the United States, as in other countries, the poor often live in overcrowded spaces, with fewer options to work from home and practice social distancing. Added to this, they have limited access to healthcare facilities. Outside of the U.S., the situation may be more dire for those living in refugee camps or impoverished areas with far worse conditions, such as a lack of clean water or poor-quality food. As the number of infected continues to rise accompanied with strain of limited hospital beds and ventilators, medical professionals will be presented with the ethical dilemma of deciding who will be saved. According to Gudorf, the logical factor guiding the decisions of doctors and nurses as to who will be saved will be the patient’s age and/or comorbidity.

Another pivotal ethical issue in this time of pandemic is preparedness. Gudorf, mentioned that China, South Korea, and Singapore have demonstrated high levels of preparedness as it concerns this pandemic. These countries were better prepared for a pandemic because of their experience with SARS in 2003. Therefore, in facing COVID-19, these three countries have better strategies to test, trace and quarantine their populations. Other countries may be prepared for natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and even tsunamis, but this pandemic reminds every country to start thinking that disasters are not only natural. Budgets for health-related disasters should be developed, healthcare facilities should be improved, and people should be better educated about the potential for a viral pandemic in the future.

Finally, Gudorf wanted to emphasize that people should realize that they are facing many ethical issues in their decision-making related to the problem of COVID-19. Governments need to use wisdom to the explain the seriousness of this pandemic to their citizens.  Citizens, in turn, should remain calm and follow the guidance of their governments. Political leaders should not use this crisis for political benefit. The betterment of the people must guide all decisions. For example, decisions like whether to set prisoners free to protect them from the virus must be weighed against the potential for increased criminality. Religious leaders and religious communities also should understand this situation and should adjust their practices accordingly by limiting large worship gatherings. Last but not least, every person should make a decision to perceive themselves as people who may already be infected by the virus even if they are not, practicing physical distancing and following government instructions, because all parties should contribute to stopping the spread of the virus and the restoration of our communities.