Ethical principles in times of COVID-19

Extreme situations sometimes require extreme actions and often also cause extreme behavior. Not only two world wars have proven that, also numerous other events and incidents around the world every day. Very often ethical principles are just thrown overboard. While not comparable with events like the second world war, Covid-19 is also an extreme situation. This is proven not least by recent statements of various political and economic leaders. Don’t worry, I won’t waste my time to refer to so-called leaders, who recommend injections of disinfectants to kill the virus.

One statement causing a fundamental debate

A few days ago I read a quote from Boris Palmer, the mayor of Tübingen, a city with less than 100,000 inhabitants close to Stuttgart in the southwest of Germany. Mr. Palmer is maybe not the most popular mayor in Germany, but definitely one of the most famous. Many Germans could maybe not tell you the name of the mayor of Berlin or Munich, but they might know the mayor of Tübingen. This is not necessarily because Mr. Palmer does such an outstanding job. Maybe he does, as he is in office already since 2007. But he is much more known for his provocative statements, which he regularly shares with the world. These statements sometimes also make it hard to believe, that he is a member of the Green Party. With what he said just a few days ago, he reached yet another level:

“We are possibly saving people in Germany who would have died in half a year anyway.” 

Just let this sentence sink in for a while. Boris Palmer said that on TV calling for a relaxation of the restrictions in connection with the Corona crisis. He also demanded different safety precautions for young and old people. And he added that the poverty resulting from the worldwide destruction of the economy would kill millions of children. Objectively speaking, he is probably even right, but I find it hard to speak objectively, when talking about life and death.

Everybody has parents or grandparents

My parents are 81 and 82. How do they feel about statements like this? I do not know as I did not want to ask them. I also do not know whether Mr. Palmer’s parents are still alive, but I hope so. What do they think about, what their son said? Statistics obviously tell us that older people have a far higher risk to die from Covid-19. So, younger people should not care? Every younger person has parents or grandparents. And if they do not have parents or grandparents any longer, for sure they know people of high-risk age. Maybe a neighbor, the grandfather of a schoolmate or the mother of a friend. Would they comfortably sit down with them and quote Boris Palmer?

Decisions about life and death

In Italy doctors had to make decisions about whom to save and whom to let die, caused by the limited availability of medical equipment. As we know, they very often or probably always decided against the older people. I read an interview with one of these doctors and could feel what this has done to her and how this most probably changed her life and personality forever. For sure this doctor would have liked to do everything to save the life of a 85-year old person, even if this person statistically only has a few years or even only months to live. I also read about the story of a 93-year old lady in Spain, who got saved and walked out of the hospital under the applause of the doctors and nurses. How would she feel, when she reads Mr. Palmer’s statement?

An ethical principle independent of COVID-19

Before Covid-19 and still today of course, there are thousands of people fighting for their life against other serious diseases like cancer. Here doctors and medical staff in the hospitals generally do everything to save their lives, no matter whether the patient is 18 or 80 years old. First of all, independent of our age none of us knows, how many years or months we still have. Even more important, I think it is not for us to decide, whether two more years of life are worth less than 20 years. Would Mr. Palmer repeat this statement also after Covid-19?

Stay safe and healthy!

PS: On May 1st, Boris Palmer published a statement apologizing that he “should not have said this sentence like that, because it hurt or frightened many people”. I agree. And he added “this should not happen, especially at such a critical time”. This should never happen.

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