Moral and Ethics in the Time of COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 virus begins to take its toll on our healthcare systems, including supplies and tiring healthcare workers, many ethical and moral decisions will need to be made. For instance, if respirators are in low supplies and you have two patients, one who will possibly survive and one who probably will die, how do you decide who gets the respirator? Remembering no one can accurately predict outcomes?

This is not a series about how to make a moral and ethical decision, but rather finding out HOW we make ethical and moral decisions. Below is a discussion on ethics and morals. First of all, we have the concept called


Deontology is an ethical theory that uses rules to distinguish right from wrong. Deontology is often associated with philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant believed that ethical actions follow universal moral laws, such as “Don’t lie.  Don’t steal.  Don’t cheat.”  It implies that as long as you follow the rules you are being ethical. In contrast of deontology is consequentialism, which evaluates actions based on the outcomes.

Most of us use the deontology, it is easy, follow the rules and there is no questioning or ambiguity of our decisions. We don’t have to question our biases. Understanding how limiting and ridged deontology can be, keeps us from basing our actions, and their consequences, on a “real” picture of a situation.   Deontology is an easy way; you just follow the rules, no matter the consequences.

 Consequentiality ethics state “greatest good for the greatest number.” Ideally this sounds fine, but those using this method can also range from utilitarianism into hedonism. There is more to making ethical decisions than following the rules or trying to accurately guess outcomes. Making an ethical decision is influenced or can be predisposed because of other ideas.

Most people make decisions based on prosocial way. That is, they decide on ethical behavior based on what their social group believes or acts upon. For instance, research shows that if our group recycles, we recycle. While, we consider this a “good thing,” it can turn into herd consciousness where we follow the group without real independent thought and decisions thinking. This is called conformity bias. Along these same lines is the Group think.

Group thinking/reasoning: The desire to remain loyal as part of a group is a big part of personal identity. We find it difficult to think outside of the boundaries set by our group. This is often to seen in religious groups, organizations of all kinds, and teenagers. Many psychologists find group thinking as causing deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.

 Group members often suffer overconfidence and hold an unchallenged belief in the group’s aptitude and morality/ethically. Members rarely speak up for the unconscious fear of being rejected by the group for any variance of concepts. Expulsion from a group is both frightening and painful. This denunciation is felt and seen as a punishment.

A group thinking may come to an ethical and moral decision that is more extreme than an individual would make aside from a group. Just as the whole is greater than the sum of its part, so are moral and ethical decisions they are more extreme than individual evaluations. The maintenance of coherence and harmony are more important than individual judgment in groups.  This need to maintain this congruence and consistency can lead to unethical behavior, and destructive decisions.

More on Ethics and moralities to come.

© Suzanne Deakins 2020


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