Normative Issues of Dealing with a Pandemic

In addition to the health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, its political, economic, cultural and psychosocial consequences, as well as those of the measures taken to contain it, will keep humanity occupied for a long time to come. In the initial phase of the pandemic, decisions on countermeasures had to be taken under great time pressure and despite considerable uncertainty. In the further course of the coronavirus crisis, however, it will become increasingly important to assess the chosen strategies more thoroughly with regard to their effectiveness, appropriateness and justifiability. In this process, not only medical and biological questions, but also social science, ethical and legal issues need to be addressed – not least to obtain guidance for the management of future pandemics, above and beyond the current crisis.

“Vulnerability” and the “systemic relevance” of certain essential services and professions are among the key normative concepts requiring in-depth reflection. On the one hand, the labelling of elderly persons and persons with pre-existing illnesses as particularly vulnerable has resulted in a great willingness to show solidarity and accept the general containment measures. On the other hand, however, it has also served to justify special burdens and restrictions on freedom for these groups of people. Apparently, the recognition of increased needs for protection is associated with a risk of stigmatisation.

Similar to the concept of systemic relevance, the concept of vulnerability is closely related to questions of distributive justice, which are being raised in ever new contexts as the coronavirus crisis progresses: At the beginning of the pandemic, the question of who should be given access to scarce resources and in what order had to be answered in view of the supply bottleneck for personal protective equipment. It also underlies controversies over triage in intensive care medicine, the allocation of limited test capacities and the prioritisation of access to vaccines.

The question of whether the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the understanding of what risks in life can be considered generally acceptable goes far beyond the current crisis. For example, the generally wide acceptance of restrictions of fundamental rights associated with some infection control measures might indicate that the state is being given greater responsibility for protection against disease, combined with a readiness to grant the corresponding powers.

Working group

  • Steffen Augsberg
  • Petra Bahr
  • Franz-Josef Bormann
  • Elisabeth Gräb-Schmidt
  • Sigrid Graumann (Chair of the group)
  • Wolfram Henn
  • Ursula Klingmüller
  • Stephan Kruip
  • Andreas Kruse
  • Volker Lipp
  • Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl (Vice-Chair of the group)
  • Julian Nida-Rümelin
  • Annette Riedel
  • Stephan Rixen
  • Frauke Rostalski
  • Kerstin Schlögl-Flierl
  • Susanne Schreiber
  • Josef Schuster
  • Judith Simon