Learning Lessons from COVID-19 Requires Recognizing Moral Failures

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 17 (4):563-566 (2020)
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Abstract

The most powerful lesson learned from the 2013-2016 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was that we do not learn our lessons. A common sentiment at the time was that Ebola served as a “wake-up call”—an alarm which signalled that an outbreak of that magnitude should never have occurred and that we are ill-prepared globally to prevent and respond to them when they do. Pledges were made that we must learn from the outbreak before we were faced with another. Nearly five years later the world is in the grips of a pandemic of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 that causes coronavirus disease 2019. It is therefore of no surprise that we are now yet again hearing that the COVID-19 pandemic serves as the “wake-up call” we need and that there are many lessons to be learned to better prepare us for future outbreaks. Will anything be different this time around? We argue that nothing will fundamentally change unless we truly understand and appreciate the nature of the lessons we should learn from these outbreaks. Our past failures must be understood as moral failures that offer moral lessons. Unless we appreciate that we have a defect in our collective moral attitude toward remediating the conditions that precipitate the emergence of outbreaks, we will never truly learn.

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