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#COVIDchat: Daniel Goldberg on the Ethics of Public Health Response to Coronavirus

minute read

"There are, I think, some pretty good reasons you could muster why massive collective action that overwhelms individual rights and liberties in the name of public health can be harmful. All we have to do is think historically about that. It's not too difficult to come up with examples where running roughshod over individual rights and liberties, especially more disadvantaged people's rights and liberties, in the name of public health, in the name of social good, has actually turned out to be disasterous, and Buck v. Bell is a nice example of that. The history of eugenics and public health in the US is another good example of that.   

So specifically returning to your specific question about coronavirus, the things that we are requiring for extreme physical distancing, this is harmful, and I think it's really important for everybody to understand that. I'm not saying that this isn't legally or ethically justified or warranted right now; I think given the situation we're in I'll go on record and say I think it's probably worth it and a good idea. But I think we have to have a counter in our head. Every day that this goes on, the harm is building. And it's not so much harm for people like me who are privileged and mostly able-bodied, although there are harms for me as well, but these harms are unequally distributed, and people who are more vulnerable, whether they're chronically ill people, whether they're people who live with certain kinds of disabilities. For example, we know that elderly people struggle mightily with social isolation in this country, and we know that social isolation is a major killer. It's a huge of mortality and morbidity. You're going to ask people in the US to socially isolate themselves for 12 to 18 months, you better be prepared for some serious public health consequences of that. Those consequences and harms build as time goes on, and so we have to think about those things."   

Watch the interview.