The Ethics of the Quarantine

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Recently I have seen several people posting thoughts that essentially say, “If you question the quarantine, you’re not pro-life.” But let’s look at this from a moral theology perspective.

In Catholic teaching, a distinction is made between ordinary and extraordinary medical care. Ordinary medical care is food, water, and essential medical treatments that are simple and not burdensome (such as giving a pill with no side effects). Extraordinary medical care is that which is of dubious effect, does not cause tremendous benefit or lengthening of life, is excessively burdensome on the patient or family, or causes such great suffering to the patient that the quality of life is significantly diminished.

We must ALWAYS provide ordinary medical care for patients. But extraordinary medical care is NOT always obligatory. One must weigh the cost, suffering involved, expected results, burden to the patient and their family, etc. It’s usually not a clear-cut answer. One CAN accept extraordinary care, but one does not have to. For example, giving grandma a treatment that will bankrupt the family or cause her great suffering and only extend her life by one year might be legitimately refused. It’s not morally wrong to refuse such treatment — rather, it is allowing nature to take its course. At times, it might be morally wrong to accept a treatment that has a small benefit and a tremendously disastrous consequence, either financially or through greater suffering for the patient.

Who makes such a decision? Anyone impacted by the medical treatment should be involved. The patient should be consulted, along with the family, doctors, and anyone else who is affected by this decision.

We are now embarking upon a world-wide campaign of extraordinary medical care. One cannot deny the costs, but also the benefits, of a world-wide quarantine and shutdown of the economy. I do not (publicly) take one side or another as to whether this is wise or prudent. But from a perspective of Catholic moral theology, people of goodwill can both agree or disagree with the quarantine, as it is certainly considered extraordinary medical care and all of us are affected. So it’s not anti-life to question it — one can do so with genuine concern for the well-being of the billions of people affected.

As an anecdote, a priest friend in Pittsburgh whose parish is blue-collar and hardscrabble said that he had two suicides last week due to the unemployment and poverty that was abruptly thrust upon them. One must weigh every cost and benefit for extraordinary care, and it isn’t a clear answer.

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Photo: Ani Kolleshi, Unsplash / PD-US
Fr. Joseph Gill

Fr. Joseph Gill

Fr. Joseph Gill grew up in a musical family in Frederick, MD, the oldest of five children. His father taught him piano from a young age, and his mother often sang in the church choir. He began writing songs very young, honing his skill further when he received his first guitar. After his conversion, he dedicated his life and his songwriting to the Lord [https://frjosephgill.bandcamp.com/]. Fr. Gill was ordained a Catholic priest in May 2013. He is currently serving at the Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist, Stamford, Connecticut. He shares his homilies at http://thecrossstands.blogspot.com/

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