Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, sheltering at home when possible is a government mandate in some areas, and voluntary in others.  If it is voluntary, is there nonetheless an ethical obligation to remain at home when possible?

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

One response »

  1. John Hooker says:

    The ethical principle is clear. We should create as much benefit and as little harm as possible for all concerned, including ourselves, while observing other ethical obligations.

    To know how to do this during a pandemic, we must rely on expert medical advice. I am no expert, but I can make a few observations based on what experts seem to be saying. Anyone out there with expertise in epidemiology is invited to correct or expand on my comments by posting a reply.

    Covid-19 is extremely contagious, and going places frequented by other people carries the risk of catching the virus. Even if you are young and unlikely to have a serious case, you can spread the disease to others. You become contagious even before showing symptoms. You may get lucky and avoid spreading the virus, but so much as creating a risk of harm is unethical.

    If you are old or otherwise at risk for a serious case, you may decide that you are brave and willing to take a risk in order to keep living a full life. Yet even if the benefit outweighs the potential harm for yourself, you risk harming others in three ways. First, you may spread the virus while out and about.

    Second, if you get sick and need hospitalization (likely at your age), you will consume health care resources that are in desperately short supply. This may deprive someone else of life-saving treatment. Third, you will burden health care workers with one more patient from whom they may contract the disease. By protecting yourself from infection, you protect and benefit others.


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