From The Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck Files: What Would We Do Without Ethicists?

Cut it out, you two! A medical ethicist says you’re being unethical!

TIME magazine has a feature up called, “‘Is Ordering Takeout Unethical?’ A Medical Ethicist Answers Some of the Most Common Moral Questions Around Coronavirus.”  Yes, res ipsa loquitur: the article is almost as absurd as the title. Moral questions are not ethics questions, you dolts. How could ordering take-out be unethical?  Why would you ask a medical ethicist about ordering food?  With all the real medical ethics questions facing the country, that’s what TIME thinks is most important question? Why would a medical ethicist agree to be involved in such idiocy?

To be fair, this the rotting carcass of the once legendary TIME magazine, once an icon of journalism, now a pathetic, biased rag with the approximate reliability of the National Enquirer. Who knows how the ethicist’s answers were edited, what he really said? None of this explains why Arthur Caplan, the distinguished medical ethicist (Ethics Alarms has a tag for Arthur), agreed to participate in this foolishness. Maybe he was tricked: it recently happened to me in a live interview where the interviewer misrepresented my expertise and an asked me questioned phrased so it would be difficult to avoid the answer he wanted. I was on the radio, however. Dr. Caplan should have  demanded better questions, or better yet, seek an interview by a more respectable publication, like, say, Weekly Reader.

Here was the bottom of the barrel, however, and lacking more information, we must hold Caplan responsible:

TIME: Is it OK to have sex with my partner?

Caplan: No. I would say unless you’ve just been tested and waited five days that you shouldn’t. No kissing either. I think it’s just too much of a risk that one of you might be infected. Also, we have to remember that older people have sex too and they’re especially in danger. In nursing homes it’s important to explain these risks to the residents.

Once again we have the hoary ethics expert trap of describing ethics standards that make no sense and are indeed impossible in the real world. Such advice is unethical, because conduct that virtually no one can or will follow is useless. Two people are sheltering together, assisting each other, comforting each other for a period that may stretch into months, but it is unethical for the two to kiss unless they plan it five days in advance and get tested first? Presumably they can’t hug or hold hands together, or sleep in the same bed either.

What utter nonsense. This is why people pay no attention to ethicists, and if this is the best they can do, I don’t blame them.

My wife and I are being responsible, but we are a unit; she’s recovering from a trauma, our business and finances are imperiled and we have a lot to worry about—and TIME finds an expert who says it’s unethical for me to kiss her, or for her to give me a hug and assure me that we’ll get through this together?

As one professional ethicist to another, Arthur, and I mean this with all due respect:

Bite me.

[For comparison purposes, this is what a real medical ethics issue is.]

13 thoughts on “From The Wuhan Virus Ethics Train Wreck Files: What Would We Do Without Ethicists?

  1. Is it OK to have sex with my partner?

    No. I would say unless you’ve just been tested and waited five days that you shouldn’t. No kissing either. I think it’s just too much of a risk that one of you might be infected. Also, we have to remember that older people have sex too and they’re especially in danger. In nursing homes it’s important to explain these risks to the residents.

    So in this context is your answer less a moral than a medical one?

    Having sex is a choice and it is more than medical. You need to decide ethically if you wish to put your partner at risk to satisfy yourself. Also how hard do you ‘push’ for sex if your partner is nervous. What if you don’t know each other very well—just met? What if your church says yes and your doctor says no?

    I am leaning towards irresponsible editing by Times, because this whole passage is utter gobbledygook. It seems to be about “at risk” partners, but the editor scrambled it to mean nothing useful.

    The rest of the article seems OK, tracking with advice given by public authorities in regions that did “shutdown”. This passage is anomalous, so I give the author (but not editor) the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Sorry, biting others is right out. It endangers the bitten, who may suffer all manner of nasty bacterial infections. There is a large body of medical literature on how nasty human bites can be.

    These days, it might also endanger the biter, but I have seen no peer reviewed articles assessing the degree of risk.

    As an aside… one of the few advantages of being mildly aspergic, so prone to initially take figures of speech literally, is that after one has realised that a literal interpretation is unlikely, much harmless fun can be had by pretending that there had been no such realisation.

    It also helps to keep em guessing, because sometimes there is no such realisation, and people will assume it is all in jest – rather than an embarassing gaffe.

    Deciding which this comment was initially is left as an exercise for the reader.

  3. From what I understand, this thing is so contagious that just close proximity can spread it, so having sex or kissing someone that you are literally sleeping next to would not seem to increase the risk at all. If either of you have it, the fact that you are sheltering together and in such close quarters means that you will likely both get it if one of you has it in any event, so why would we try to stop people from comforting each other. I mean, I could understand if this was only transmitted sexually or via body fluids, but this thing is airborne.

    • And yet, 80% of the people on the diamond princess cruise ship didn’t catch the Wuhan virus despite being served food by people who did.

    • From doing a little research, it doesn’t appear that we really know just how contagious it is, although it is true that it’s airborne. I was reading early that it didn’t appear that people were very contagious prior to be symptomatic, but again they don’t seem to be sure about that. One reason would be that so many cases appear to be very mild — you may not even know that you have it — so I suppose you could be contagious without realizing you were really sick.

      As I understand it, the only way to really know how widespread this is is to go in after it’s all over and test the population for — antibodies, or some such marker that would indicate how many people had contracted the disease. I’m not a biologist and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express, so I don’t know exactly how that works, but that’s what I’ve heard.

  4. [For comparison purposes, this is what a real medical ethics issue is.]

    Thank you, Jack, for reminding me that this very real medical (not just ethics) issue calls for my DNR form to be updated immediately.

  5. Is it OK to have sex with my partner?

    OH HELL NO. It is absolutely NOT okay for you to have sex with my partner. Now get out of here, you perv!

    –Dwayne

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.