In an essay published this month, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois argued that months-long lockdowns in response to the coronavirus are an extraordinary means of saving life, and are therefore not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by the state.
We have “taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of shutting down a major portion of our economy for the past several months, telling people to stay home, not to go to work, and not to go to school,” Bishop Paprocki wrote in “Social Shutdowns as an Extraordinary Means of Saving Human Lives”, an essay in the September edition of Ethics & Medics, a commentary published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
“The distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life is important, for if a means is extraordinary—that is, if the burdens outweigh the benefits—then it is not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by state power,” he wrote.
“[I]n the face of a pandemic, do we have a moral obligation to shut down our society, require people to stay at home, put employees out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy, impair the food supply chain, and prevent worshippers from going to church? I would say no,” the bishop concluded, saying that such actions “would be imposing unduly burdensome and extraordinary means.”
Speaking to CNA, Bishop Paprocki drew an analogy with the distinction between ordinary means of preserving the life of a patient in medical care, which are obligatory, and extraordinary means, which are so burdensome that they are not obligatory, in the response to a pandemic.
“It just occurred to me that that very word extraordinary is a word that we use in Catholic medical ethics when we talk about treatments to save life, when you’re talking about an individual patient,” he said.
“Looking back, at emails and decisions we were making at that time, we were very much thinking in the middle of March, that this was going to be for a couple of weeks – we’ll close our schools until the end of March, and then things will reopen.”
“Obviously that didn’t happen that way,” he said, “so the lockdowns got extended another month, and so here we are several months later and this is ongoing.”
“The impact that it’s been having on people being able to go to church, receive Communion, go to their jobs, go to school, with all that being basically shut down for a period of time, again, it just struck me as extraordinary, that this had never happened in my lifetime, and probably in the lifetime of most people who are alive today, and so the word extraordinary kept coming back to me,” he explained.
Full story at Catholic World Report.