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A pro-life perspective on managing the COVID-19 pandemic


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Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP - published on 05/08/20

Is striving for herd immunity, regardless of the human "culling" that may be required, ethical?

Why not just let the virus “burn through” the population to shorten the time needed to acquire herd immunity? We would protect the vulnerable and elderly, of course. This way we would just get the virus over with.

An increasing number of voices propose that this is what societies have to do to move quickly beyond this pandemic. They point to the experience of Sweden to bolster their claims that this strategy would work. It would preserve both health and wealth.

Note that whether we adopt this pandemic strategy or not is not a scientific question – though science has to inform the intellect so that it can judge wisely – but an ethical and a political one. Therefore, we need to begin by clarifying the ethical principles that we will need to make this prudential judgment.

Which ethical and social principles would the Catholic moral tradition propose to guide us here? I think that there are at least two. Both of these moral principles are the foundational pillars for the pro-life worldview.

First, we are called to acknowledge and respect the intrinsic dignity of each and every human organism. Because of this dignity, every human organism is priceless. Every human organism is inestimable. We all have this “beyond-price” value/worth/status because every human organism is made in the image and likeness of God with an intellectual nature that allows us to know and to love.

Therefore the Down syndrome fetal human, the 90-year-old person with dementia living in a nursing home, and the 45-year old who is also the managing partner of the mid-town NY law firm all have equal value. They all have equal moral status. They are all created equal regardless of their social contribution, their social role, or their social success, or lack thereof. We have to try to protect them equally well during a pandemic.

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