Viral Ethics: The Value of a Life

Today, we’re happy to lend this space to Tom Galvin, a former journalist who has worked at the intersection of technology, policy, and the economy for the past two decades.11219646_10206707969871603_4201137767317298659_nTom used those experiences to write his debut novel, The Auction, due for release later this year.

The following guest blog grew out of one of Tom’s  recent Facebook posts:

The hesitant steps to reopen the economy are spurring a collective ethics test for us as citizens. Today, many of us may view the demands to end the lockdown as reckless and selfish. In eight weeks, however, if the lockdown is still in place, we may share the belief that the damage to the economy outweighs the health risks.  So, who and what is right? And is there such a thing?

To explore it, I posed a question to my Facebook friends: “Imagine there’s about 500nyc people in your neighborhood. Would you stay in lockdown if it meant one of them wouldn’t die? Or would you say that the life saved (maybe your own) isn’t worth 500 people being out of work?”

I choose that scenario because at that moment the ratio of deaths to jobless claims was roughly 500 to 1. I didn’t reveal that at the time; I wanted to provoke thought about the difficult choices we face.

The responses mirrored the public debate. Initially, most echoed this comment, “That’s a tough one. I can’t imagine that I could live with myself if there was a chance that I had something to do with someone dying.”

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Viral Ethics: Let the Needy Go First

I serve as treasurer of a small nonprofit organization for writers in Maryland, and because of the Covid-19 stay-at-home order, we had to cancel our annual conference. That cost us about $2,000.  At a recent board meeting, someone suggested we apply for money being made available by the local government to assist nonprofits in sudden need. We talked about it and decided not to apply. We have a big enough rainy day fund to cover the loss, we have no employees to worry about, and we’re in no danger of slowing, let alone ceasing, operations. Other organizations clearly need it more.

None of us had to think hard about this; it was clearly the ethical thing to do.

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Viral Ethics: Covid-19 Questions

I stopped writing the TalkingEthics blog shortly after the 2016 election. I didn’t see any way to continue without getting mired in the nastiness and hatred that characterized any discussion involving politics, and I wanted to avoid that (and still do). It was also true that the media started paying a lot more attention to ethics as the new administration pushed what were already questionable boundaries. Plus, I started writing novels, which gave me a different kind of opportunity to explore ethical

All of that is still true today, but the Covid-19 crisis raises some serious new issues, and I’m starting to see neighbors and friends discuss them, so I decided to jump back in. I’ll start with a few thoughts on a handful of issues and ask you to join in the discussion with your own views (details on how to participate below). Let’s start with wearing masks.

Is it ethical to leave your mask at home? Here in Maryland, masks are now required in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other places of business where it’s Continue reading