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