The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in many of us. We have seen communities applauding health care workers for their sacrifice, and scores of persons collecting and distributing food to those who have lost their pay cheques and whose families have been going hungry.
We have seen, in other countries during the lockdown, spontaneous singing from balconies to cheer up the neighbourhood, and here and elsewhere, artistes doing concerts and producing songs of encouragement distributed via social media. Human solidarity has been very much on display.
However, the pressures of coping with the disease has also seen societies confronted with difficult moral choices. Emergency doctors, with insufficient supplies of ventilators, have had to make a choice as to which of the patients, gasping for oxygen before them, will be intubated and so have a chance to live, and who will not.
In normal times, doctors do face such decisions and may have to mark “Do Not Resuscitate” on the chart of a patient for whom medical science can do nothing more. But it is vastly different when something can be done, but you just don’t have the equipment or the resources or the time because you are overwhelmed.
How does one make such a decision? How does one live with the decision?
Another moral dilemma posed by the pandemic presents at the level of the society as a whole. It is put as a choice between ‘lives and livelihoods’.
The public health response has been to bring significant parts of economic activity to a halt, putting large numbers of people out of work, literally overnight.
The demands to reopen the economy are based on the argument that the lockdown is causing more pain and greater cost to society and the economy than the value of the lives that would be saved by locking down the rest of us.
They say that those more likely to die are elderly and have co-morbidities such as diabetes and hypertension. These people, in some undefined sense are seen to be more expendable than the rest of us and as some have argued, would probably have died anyway from their underlying clinical conditions without the help of COVID-19.
It is instructive that this was the course which Boris Johnson’s UK Government was pursuing until the projections of just how many people would die was brought home to him and he changed course. And as fate would have it, Johnson himself got the virus and ended up in intensive care, emerging with high praise for those who saved his life, and allowing him to greet his newborn son.
It’s perhaps easy to opt for a choice where nameless, faceless people die rather than when the dying persons have a name and a face and a personal relationship. Of course, we all must die. But our deaths should not be needless.
Moreover, those who die deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not shuffled into a body bag, piled into a makeshift morgue, and buried without ceremony in a mass grave, when the last time they would have been seen by their loved ones was when they were taken away in the ambulance. Such has been the fate of the over 300,000 persons who have died of this dreadful corona virus worldwide.
Happily, except for Brazil, countries have opted to make the enormous economic sacrifice and have chosen lives over livelihoods.
In His infinite wisdom and mercy, God has visited this virus upon us so that we might refocus on what is really important and enduring, so that we might embrace life for what it truly is.
Indeed, life is nothing more or less than the way, through Jesus Christ, that we humans come to know and love God, and love our neighbour.