Because of the corona virus, public life is practically extinct. The economy is slumping and companies are struggling to survive. A debate has therefore broken out in the United States about what is better for the country: as few Corona patients as possible or a deep recession. Switzerland will have to ask this question sooner or later, says Markus Huppenbauer, business ethicist at the University of Zurich.
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As the first reaction to a pandemic, it was right to give public health top priority. However, the longer the crisis lasted, the more other aspects would have to be taken into account. “Finding the right balance here is the task of the Federal Council: a very difficult responsibility,” says Huppenbauer.
Nobody prescribes what is more important
It is a classic problem of an ethical conflict. “In extreme cases, two options have to be weighed up: the lives of those at risk against the lives of people whose well-being is at risk from a possible economic crisis.” But there is no overriding ethical authority that says what is more important.
At some point, the good of the economy must be placed on an equal footing with health. Because: “If the economy stalls for too long, it is also bad for the good of the population,” says Huppenbauer.
The economy is there for the benefit of people
People should never be just a means to an end, says social ethicist Michael Coors from the University of Zurich. Nevertheless, the good of the economy is important: “We cannot shut down everything, that would only lead to unemployment and poverty in the medium term, and that would be bad for everyone.”
After all, the economy is there for the good of the people and not the other way around. That is why a functioning economic life is needed. The health system also depends on this. “This can only work if all of the medical equipment continues to be manufactured,” says Coors.
Don’t sacrifice people for the economy
For the ethicist Peter Kirchschläger from the University of Lucerne, on the other hand, the whole thing is not a worthwhile debate: “Everyone has human dignity, a human life must not simply be given a certain value.” The economy should not be worth more than a life, and a person cannot be sacrificed for the good of the economy.
Kirchschläger also criticizes the federal government’s approach: «Construction sites and industry are only open because an economic interest prevails. This is unacceptable.” It is about human lives, the health of the workers must have priority.
The Federal Council has failed if the health system becomes overloaded at some point. “That would show that we waited too long and put people at risk too long – for economic reasons,” says Kirchschläger.