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People wearing masks on the Paris Metro.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new ethical contentions in people’s everyday lives. Should I wear a mask? Should I go on holiday? Should vaccination be mandatory?

In their new paper, Stephanie Johnson, Federica Lucivero and colleagues explore moral values and ethical reasoning around the transmission of COVID-19, through qualitative interview data collected from members of the public in five European countries (Italy, Ireland, Germany, German-speaking Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) during the first lockdowns in April 2020.

They contend participants were “morally unprepared” for the pandemic. Their moral values and ethical reasonings were often heterogeneous, inconsistent, assumed and replicated existing stigmas and preconceived ideas about specific groups.

The paper argues that understanding morality and ethics with regards to transmission is important in order to clarify the issues at stake in public debates and to make visible patterns of reasoning that influence people’s behaviors and ultimately affect collective action.

It concludes that to develop “moral preparedness” for the next phases of this and future pandemics will require an understanding of the moral values and normative concepts citizens use in their own decision-making. The authors end by identifying three aspects that need to be further articulated to develop such preparedness: conceptual clarity over what responsibility or respect mean in practice; better understanding of collective mindsets and how to encourage them; and the development of a situated, rather than universalist approach to the development of normative standards.

S. B. Johnson, F. Lucivero, B. M. Zimmermann, E. Stendahl, G. Samuel, A. Phillips & N. Hangel (2022) Ethical Reasoning During a Pandemic: Results of a Five Country European Study, AJOB Empirical Bioethics, 13:2, 67-78, DOI: 10.1080/23294515.2022.2040645

Photo by Davyn Ben on Unsplash