It’s time for a Coronavirus ethical debate

One of my all-time-favorite educational programs as a youth movement leader was called the hierarchy of ‘Tzedakah’ (charity).

At first, we would have the participants list all the organizations that they believe are doing important work for the community and therefore deserve our support. The participants would come up with a long list of organizations, ranging from homeless shelters to art museums. We accepted all their initial suggestions. Not surprisingly, the list grew quickly.

Next, we explained that in the real world, insufficient funds for universal support of all worthy was impossible. The long list would be halved.

At this time, the participants would have some time to debate and decide which organizations are more important than others. Usually, it would not take long before they presented a shorter list.

This is when it got interesting.

The next task would be to cut the list again and only keep the ten most important organizations. As if this wasn’t hard enough, they then presented the list in order of importance. Starting with the most important, ending with the least.

It was fascinating to watch the participants debate. They would argue fiercely. What is more important, helping young addicts or elderly Holocaust survivors? Subsidizing music classes for the poor or providing scholarships for the gifted? Feeding the local homeless or children in Africa? Saving the global environment or saving the local stray cats?

It was amazing to watch how different people are passionate about different ideas/values and only rarely would they come to a final conclusion.

However, there was always one value that stood out and was almost certain that would end on the top of the list and that is ‘saving lives’.

No matter what else was on the priority list, funding hospitals would always remain on the top. This obviously makes sense and fits Abraham Maslows’ hierarchy of needs’ putting physiological health as the most important human need.

During these past 6 months of dealing with COVID-19, the entire world is taking part in a similar exercise.

This unknown, deadly virus is presented to the public as a direct threat to human survival. Just like funding hospitals is expected to be on the top of the priority list, we are expected to deliberately crash the economy, lose our jobs, and sacrifice our children’s education and well-being in order to guarantee the most important human need – life.

However, a critical thinker should ask – is this really the case? Is mainstream global policy the only way to save lives?

Today’s data suggests, in brief, that the vast majority of the population is not at risk at all. In fact, we know that over 75% of the victims are over 75 years old and had one or more underlying medical conditions.

This means that if we go back to the youth movement educational exercise, the question should not be whether we fund hospitals or fund other needs. The question should be, do we take care of the elderly and vulnerable by having them stay at home and we, the healthy, take care of all their needs, or do we go into lock-down and therefore hurt the entire population?!

I would argue that we must have this important discussion. We shouldn’t dismiss this debate and blindly assume that the planet is at risk, totters. It isn’t.

Furthermore, our complicated situation raises difficult questions about the gaps in our society and hypocrisy. If we would ask an upper-middle-class family if they agree to sacrifice their child’s private college education to pay more taxes so the poor would get better health care, would that pass so easily? Why isn’t the answer so clear? Aren’t we still talking about the most important value of saving lives? If we would expect the standard American family to give up their savings for a family vacation so they could donate the funds to save the lives of children in Africa, would there be no debate about it?

It’s amazing to watch how irrational fear is causing millions of people to sacrifice so much.

I’m afraid that when the policymakers wake, it will be too late, the damage irreparable.



About the Author
Elkana is an entrepreneur and business manager with a deep passion for education. Since 2007, Elkana has been in the field of experiential education and social entrepreneurship, focusing on community building, social awareness, humanities, and Jewish identity. Elkana currently resides in Rockville, MD, together with his wife and two daughters.
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