I am sick and tired of COVID!
We are all sick and tired of COVID!
And we are all sick and tired of not seeing our friends….
So how do we decide if we should go to that big dinner or an out-of-town meeting in this complicated world of COVID-19? This is a classic ethical dilemma…and there is a tool kit* you can use to come up with an answer.
Step 1: Assess the information. What do you know and what do you need to know?
The first question to ask is “Who are the parties involved?” If you are deciding whether to go to an event, It clearly affects you and the other people who might be going to the event, but who else will be affected by the final decision?
The next two questions in this step are straightforward: What do you know? What else do you need to know?
Step 2: Think out of the box.
Every ethical dilemma has a “yes-no” answer, in this case to go or not to go to the event. But what other actions might be possible? Limit the number of people? Require testing and/or masks? Is there an option to participate virtually? This step should be a serious brainstorming exercise to explore ANY possible option (if you do it right, there will be some things on the list that sound almost crazy).
Step 3: Consider the Appeals
This is a fancy way of saying how do the possible choices fit with your values and what we, as a society, think are virtues?
Considering the appeals starts with a simple question – “Is there a rule?” For example, does your employer have a rule limiting travel during the pandemic? Are you traveling to a state that has a law prohibiting mask mandates?
The second question in this process is “What could go wrong?” What are the possible consequences of each option? If one option is to pay a little extra to be able to get a refund on your plane ticket, it’s probably not going to be important in making your final decision. But if it turns out that your decision might lead you to inadvertently infect your 70-year-old mentor with COVID, that’s more serious. Once you get a list of all the possible consequences try to put them in order of significance by asking if they are serious, irreversible, and/or likely.
The third question is “Which choices have more virtue?”. Which ones are more likely to reflect what we, as a society, think are behaviors and motivations that good human beings demonstrate? Most of us will agree that compassion, courage, self-sacrifice, legitimately protecting ourselves, integrity, and honesty are virtues, but there may be others that are important to you. Here is a link to see a long list of virtues to consider.
Step 4: Decide
It’s time to decide. Look at all the objective data (step 1), the list of possible actions (step 2), and which of the actions has the most virtue (step 3). Some of them will have more weight for you than others. That’s not only ok, it’s important. We may come to different conclusions, but using this process, we will both know why.
Step 5: What could have been done to avoid this in the first place?
This step won’t change your current dilemma, but it will help you and others with future decisions.
Let’s assume you’ve been invited to speak to a group next month. It’s an honor, and it’s a talk you love to give! But we are in the middle of a pandemic… should you say yes?
Step 1: Assess the information
Who are the parties involved?
You, the organizers, the people who will (or won’t) hear your talk, the people in your life you might infect if you get COVID, your work partners, the organization you work for.
What do you know?
It’s an honor to be asked, so this is good for your career. You love this topic and you really want to give this talk. The number of people who will be at the meeting (based on past meetings) will be between 700 and 800. Given the demographics, it’s likely that >95% of the people at the meeting will be vaccinated. You are vaccinated and boosted. The state they are holding the meeting in has a law prohibiting mask mandates and the organization has not put out any directives about masking or testing. The state they are holding the meeting in has an unvaccinated rate of … % and a COVID prevalence of … %. (Here’s where to look up these data.) There are people in your professional and personal life who are at high risk if you were to inadvertently bring COVID back to them.
What do you need to know?
Have the organizers addressed the issue of the mask mandate? Are the organizers going to require masks? Testing? Does your employer have rules or recommendations about travelling?
Step 2: Options
- Go to the meeting
- Don’t go to the meeting
The not so obvious
- Go to the meeting
- But just for the day you are presenting and don’t attend any other sessions
- Go but avoid social gatherings and wear a N95 all the time
- Don’t go to the meeting
- Ask if they would consider a hybrid meeting so you can present virtually
- Record your presentation so they can show it during your session
Step 3: Appeals
- Rules/laws: The law in the state to not mandate masks should be addressed by the organizers of the meeting, but you can choose to wear a mask regardless. There aren’t any other obvious rules or laws that apply (unless your employer has restrictions on travel).
- Consequences. If you go to the meeting you might contract COVID (possibly serious, only remotely irreversible, possible but not likely). You could bring it home to others (possibly serious, only remotely irreversible, unlikely). If you are sick there will be a burden placed on your work partners (could be serious, not that likely) If you don’t go to the meeting you might lose your status in the organization (possibly serious, only remotely irreversible)
- What is the most virtuous thing to do? It may make the most sense to ask if the organizers will allow a hybrid approach so you can present virtually – or if they would let you record your presentation. But if those aren’t possible, you’ll need to decide if you are going or not. If you go to the meeting you are showing integrity (You said you would do it, so you are following through) and self-sacrifice (The organizers thought you had something important to say, so you are willing to take the risk). If you don’t go to the meeting you are showing legitimate self-interest (protecting yourself), compassion (for the family and friends you might inadvertently infect).You are also showing care and respect for your work partners, who would be burdened if you were to become ill.
So… do you go or do you stay?
*To give credit where credit is due: The process described above is a slightly modified version of the “Ethics Workup” originally developed by the faculty of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.