The Ethics Center welcomes bioethics expert Art Caplan
Caplan, a professor at New York University, discussed the ethical successes and failures of the country’s response to the pandemic.
By: Grace Oddo ’22
Thursday, March 31, 2022 12:33 a.m.
Professor and bioethics expert Art Caplan speaks at a Zoom event on March 23.
At the March 23 Center for Ethics event, NYU professor and bioethics expert Art Caplan shared an anecdote about his mother, who died of complications from COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Originally from the Boston area, Caplan’s mother loved New England seafood, having her hair done and having visits from her son. Caplan, looking suffocated, was unable to say goodbye to her in person, instead having to wave to her through the window of her nursing home.
“I’m telling this story to get people’s attention,” Caplan said. “People aren’t going to respond just to data and numbers. You want them to care.
In conjunction with this year’s theme, “Pandemic: Response, Resilience, and Reflection,” the College Ethics Center invited Art Caplan to appear via Zoom to share his perspective on medical ethics during the COVID pandemic. -19. The conference was moderated by Assistant Professor of Public Health Kathleen Bachynski, a former Caplan mentee.
“[Caplan] is one of the leading medical ethicists in the United States,” Bachynski said. “From my perspective, it was a wonderful opportunity to get a ‘big picture’ view from a leading expert on many aspects of our response to COVID-19 over the past two years.”
According to Caplan, there have been notable successes in terms of the national response to the virus. He highlighted the development and distribution of an effective vaccine, efforts to protect vulnerable populations and, overall, a change in national attitude towards infectious diseases.
“It has reshaped the way we think about protecting our most vulnerable,” Caplan said at the event.
However, the country’s biggest failures in terms of the coronavirus pandemic lie in public messaging. At the local and federal levels, Caplan highlighted how leaders have failed to deliver consistent messaging on nearly everything COVID-related, from face coverings to social distancing to vaccine safety and effectiveness. This, he said, caused public confusion and distrust.
The politicization of the pandemic has also contributed to public distrust. “What we saw was heavy politics tied to misinformation,” Caplan said. “The pandemic arrived during a very turbulent time and was therefore swept up in huge political differences.”
So, asked Bachynski, how do we proceed when the threat of new COVID variants is ever-present? What lessons should public health professionals learn from the past two years? How do we respond to the “we need to get back to normal” argument and ask where we are now?
“We need to redefine what ‘normal’ is,” Caplan replied. In order to avoid school closures and nationwide shutdowns, Caplan points out that two key things will help contain any future coronavirus outbreak: free and accessible testing and antiviral drugs. “There are things we can do to get back to some sense of normalcy, but I’m not sure we’ll be fully back to normal with this virus still present.”