The COVID-19 Pandemic: Healthcare Crisis Leadership as Ethics Communication

Camb Q Healthc Ethics. 2021 Jan;30(1):42-50. doi: 10.1017/S0963180120000444. Epub 2020 May 22.


Governmental reactions to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as ethics communication. Governments can contain the disease and thereby mitigate the detrimental public health impact; allow the virus to spread to reach herd immunity; test, track, isolate, and treat; and suppress the disease regionally. An observation of Sweden and Finland showed a difference in feasible ways to communicate the chosen policy to the citizenry. Sweden assumed the herd immunity strategy and backed it up with health utilitarian arguments. This was easy to communicate to the Swedish people, who appreciated the voluntary restrictions approach and trusted their decision makers. Finland chose the contain and mitigate strategy and was towards the end of the observation period apparently hesitating between suppression and the test, track, isolate, and treat approach. Both are difficult to communicate to the general public accurately, truthfully, and acceptably. Apart from health utilitarian argumentation, something like the republican political philosophy or selective truth telling are needed. The application of republicanism to the issue, however, is problematic, and hiding the truth seems to go against the basic tenets of liberal democracy.

Keywords: COVID-19; Finland; Sweden; bioethics; liberal democracy; lying for benevolent reasons; pandemic; republicanism; social democracy; utilitarianism.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • COVID-19*
  • Communication*
  • Contact Tracing
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Herd
  • Leadership*
  • Pandemics*
  • Politics*
  • Public Health
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sweden