Ethical choices demonstrate respect for others

I’ve been looking through an ethical lens at some of the COVID-era choices people make.

Have you ever heard the statement, “Do the right thing even when no one else is watching?” That is a statement about ethics.

Ethics are moral principles that govern a person’s behavior; they suggest we do the right thing even when doing the wrong thing is not illegal.

Laws surrounding COVID-19 are sparse. After all, it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Instead, various entities have established guidelines as recommendations on how to act.

Whether or not one conforms to these guidelines has a lot to do with a person’s ethical lens.

Let’s look at some ethical choices during COVID times.

It is not illegal to not wear a mask; it is an ethical choice.

Businesses not complying with public health orders had some legal consequences, but by and large the fines were minimal; it was more of an ethical choice.

Individuals jumping the line to get a vaccine before their time is not illegal; it is an ethical choice.

Vaccinators providing vaccines to friends and family is not illegal; it is an ethical choice.

Gathering without masks with a group of friends inside a home during the height of COVID was not illegal; it was an ethical choice.

While guidelines were established for many of these situations, for some individuals they were subject to interpretation. Both individuals and businesses have been involved in conflicts as a result, and some of their activities have been put into question from an ethical standpoint.

It’s impossible to know from just looking at someone what guides their ethical principles. Are they centered around caring for the common good or treating everyone equally or creating the most good and the least harm?

All these are ethical principles. It’s hard to know if an individual’s ethics align with their own personal values or if they are guided by ethical principles at all.

Recently I was asked my opinion by two senior acquaintances, each of whom held the opposite point of view on getting together with friends.

My first friend explained that now that most of her bridge group was vaccinated, they were going to begin in-person games again. However, the group was not comfortable including their one unvaccinated friend. The group did not want to hurt the feelings of the unvaccinated person, but they decided not to include her.

Another friend wanted my help in crafting a response to acquaintances who did not want to get together with her because she did not plan to get the vaccine.

I am, by far, not an ethicist, but since they asked me, here was my reasoning and response.

In both instances the real risk in getting together is to the unvaccinated senior. From the facts as we hear them now, the vaccine is very effective at preventing acute sickness and death should a person get COVID. It may not completely prevent the transmission of the virus.

For that reason, vaccinated friends may be concerned that they’re putting an unvaccinated older adult friend’s life at risk if they get together inside a home without masks.

They might not be able to forgive themselves if their friend falls ill with COVID and gets extremely sick or dies.

In this respect they’re trying to do good, even though the friend may feel like she is being slighted or shamed for not getting the vaccine. The group had to weigh the harm they might do if their friend gets ill from COVID due to gathering with them versus having her feelings hurt.

My unvaccinated friend holds an ethical principle that values her own ability to make the choice that is right for her. She may feel her friends are not respecting her choice and her right to decide for herself what is risky.

It’s important to distinguish many of these COVID choices as ethical choices because making decisions that are ethical generates trust; demonstrates respect, fairness and caring; and is consistent with good citizenship.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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