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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Pro-life Take on the Corona Crisis

Apr 21, 2020

There are more than just medical issues to consider in the corona debate:

Sadly, I have already had my fair share of those who somehow think I do not care about human life because I dare to ask questions about corona alarmism. Too many folks have either said or insinuated that I am a hard-hearted bastard because I try to point out a few hard facts about the corona crisis and our response to it.

A point I have made all along is the need to ensure that our response is not worse than the virus. Major lengthy lockdowns can prove to be just as fatal to hundreds of thousands of people as the virus itself. So it is foolish and reckless for these folks to claim that I am putting profit ahead of people, or the economy ahead of human lives.

That is absolute nonsense. All lives matter, whether they are lost due to economic ruin or a virus. And I was just alerted to someone else who has strongly made this case. It seems that Australian economics professor Gigi Foster appeared on Q&A last night critiquing our lockdown. She said:

I reject the idea it’s lives versus the economy. It’s lives versus lives. The economy is about lives. It’s about protection of lives and human welfare and livelihood. You can make an apples to apples comparison although people find it difficult to do so. What frustrates me is when people talk about the economic costs of the lockdown they often don’t think in detail in terms of counting lives, as we do with the epidemiological models. Has anyone thought about how would you get a measure of the traded lives when we lock an economy down? What are we sacrificing in terms of lives?

Economists have tried to do that and we try to do that in currencies like the value of a statistical life … and those quantities enable you to think about lives on one side versus lives on the other. If you do that kind of calculus you realise very quickly that even with a very, very extreme epidemic, in Australia, we are still potentially better off not having an economic lockdown in the first place because of the incredible effects that you see not just in a short-run way but in many years to come. www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/current-affairs/coronavirus-australia-economist-gigi-foster-shares-blunt-lockdown-view-on-qa/news-story/e8fafd0e4c268c45cbb5133b767f0863

But of course so many of these legitimate concerns do not enter into the minds of so many alarmists. Indeed, sound reasoning and logic is often missing in this debate. As with so many important issues in life, fear and feelings tend to trump facts and evidence in the corona discussions.

So we need to keep trying to get back to rationality and logic, not emotive overreactions. The big picture needs to be considered here, not just one small aspect of it. I have had many folks who want to discuss only the medical side of things (as important as that is) but who seem oblivious to other crucial aspects of this debate, including the social, political and economic.

And as I have argued before, various matters need to be weighed up here. Life is never risk-free, and it is always about considering the options and about trade-offs. For example, some folks love donuts, but risk developing heart disease as a result. Some folks love smoking, but might develop lung cancer as a result. Some folks love race car driving, but risk losing their lives in a crash as a result.

Most human activity involves some risks, and there are always costs and benefits to be assessed in many courses of action – both for individuals and the state. But I discuss this in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/18/corona-and-the-elimination-of-risk/

Let me deal with this matter a bit further. According to the CDC: ‘Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.’

And here is another set of figures: ‘More than 38,000 people die every year in crashes on U.S. roadways. The U.S. traffic fatality rate is 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. An additional 4.4 million are injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Road crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people aged 1-54.’

Yet how often have we heard those who fully support the draconian lockdown measures of so many governments around the world make the following claim: ‘These strict measures are totally worth it if they save just one human life.’ Hmm, OK, so at least they ought to be consistent here.

As I keep repeating, the actual number of corona deaths in Australia thus far is 71. In Australia in 2019, ‘1,146 people were killed in road related deaths, over 3 people a day.’ And as to Australian smoking-related deaths, ‘Tobacco use contributed to an estimated 21,000 deaths, or more than 1 in 8 fatalities, in Australia during 2015’.

So the question is, to be consistent, will these same folks demand a complete lockdown in the use of cigarettes and automobiles? After all, if it saves just one life, it will be worth it. And if not, why not? Selective moralising always strikes me as a bit suspect.

But I have raised these points before. So let me appeal to another expert here. American prolife champion Scott Klusendorf has recently penned an excellent piece on all this that is a must read. I encourage you to do so. It is a lengthy and well-argued article, and here are some quotes from it:

Are pro-life advocates who question a prolonged economic lockdown trading lives for profits, thus undermining their core principles? When I raised these questions in an online exchange, a respected pro-life colleague replied, “Doctors know medicine better than we do, better than economists do. Life above profits!”

Is it really that simple? One thing is clear: Almost without notice, somebody moved the goalposts. A month ago, we were told a temporary shutdown of the economy was required to “flatten the curve” and slow transmission of the virus. If we didn’t, millions of sick Americans would overwhelm our hospitals and break the system. That made sense to many Americans. However, when models predicting that dire result were proven wrong, the ground rules changed. Now, instead of a brief shutdown aimed at slowing transmission, we’re told that we are morally obligated to extend economic lockdowns indefinitely until we beat the virus itself and no one is in danger.

He continues:

Shutting down an entire nation for a prolonged period of time and destroying its economy can have a catastrophic impact on the common good, resulting in deaths from civil unrest, delayed non-COVID-19 medical procedures, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide — to name a few. That probability should also be brought as close to zero as possible.

“Life above profits” fails to account for this complexity in the precautionary principle and thus presents a false choice. Pro-life advocates concerned about the economy are not callously choosing money over people. They’re asking how we can save lives and preserve the common good given the pandemic we’ve been dealt. Is an indefinite shutdown of an entire society the best way to do that? Doctors don’t hold a trump card on that question. And yet that is precisely the danger we face. Medical professionals who would never allow experimental cures until they are fully tested are quite willing to step outside their field of expertise and demand untested and draconian economic policies that harm vulnerable Americans and impoverish the nation. Profits lift millions out of poverty and give us the resources to fight disease in the first place. Indeed, our economy is delicate and interconnected in ways not subject to central planners who unilaterally dictate what is and is not “essential.” As philosopher Lydia McGrew points out, “A ban on the sale of garden mulch affects (ultimately) a hospital’s ability to provide pay to a doctor treating Covid19 patients.” A failure to recognize this interconnectedness is a danger to human life….

While we must never intentionally kill innocent human beings, in practice we allow for tradeoffs where the risk of death is foreseen but not intended. These tradeoffs are unavoidable in the pursuit of other intrinsic goods. For example, electricity saves lives and powers our appliances, but each year 400 people die from electrocution and thousands more are injured. Worldwide, car wrecks kill 1.5 million people a year, many of them in poor countries. That’s 3,700 deaths each day! We could save hundreds of thousands of lives if we enforced a 25-mph speed limit, but we don’t. Is that because we’re playing a game of “Lifeboat” where we arbitrarily decide who lives and dies based on economic worth? No, we recognize that speedy and efficient transportation leads to a higher standard of living for everyone. We accept these tradeoffs all the time.

“Pro-life” means we will never sanction the intentional killing of innocent human beings. It does not mean that the preservation of life is the only intrinsic good we should pursue. If it were, our decisions would be much simpler: just do what contributes to length of life and eschew anything that doesn’t. But that may not lead to the best, or even a good, outcome. www.equip.org/article/covid-19-do-pro-life-principles-require-a-sustained-shut-down-of-the-economy-who-decides/

Again, other authorities could be appealed to here. For example, American economist Alexis Akira Toda has just penned an informative piece entitled, “Early draconian social distancing may be suboptimal for fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.” It begins:

The COVID-19 epidemic will not end until populations acquire herd immunity either because a vaccine is developed or a sufficiently large share of the population has been infected and recovered. This column argues that the draconian mitigation measures currently taken by many governments may be suboptimal because they prevent the building of herd immunity while incurring significant economic costs. A more targeted approach, such as that of Sweden or ‘optimally delayed mitigation’, may be preferable. voxeu.org/article/early-draconian-social-distancing-may-be-suboptimal-fighting-covid-19-epidemic

So we need to bring all vital considerations to bear on this matter, not just medical ones. Economic, social, legal and political considerations also must be taken into account. And to do so is NOT an indication of a refusal to care about human life.

[1712 words]

19 Responses to A Pro-life Take on the Corona Crisis

  • Common sense is all the time being called nonsense. Thank you for speaking common sense.

  • Exactly, Bill !! without a vibrant, functioning economy, millions, if not billions of lives will be lost. We have to get people back to work. The whole COVID-19 bug has been outrageously overhyped. We must look for the solution that will do the LEAST DAMAGE. There is no solution that will do no damage. Again, thank you for sharing your insight.

  • Hi Bill. This is a great article and should be mandatory reading for all. It puts things wonderfully into perspective. With climate change, we were told to rely on ‘the science’ to combat the invisible ‘enemy’ of carbon dioxide. Now we are fighting the invisible ‘enemy,’ corona virus and told to rely on the medical experts – which is fair enough. However in both scenarios, it is modelling and projections which seem to dictate our responses and time and again they appear to be proven to be inaccurate (like polls!), with never an apology and zero accountability. To the lay person often it seems as if the worst possible outcomes are used – by the frenzied, fear mongering, sensationalist media and activists especially – and the general public is so terrified we just accept our fate and so easily surrender all freedoms without question. I know our government is doing what it thinks is best to protect us and in Australia we have thus far had a good outcome with controlling the virus. Success rebuilding the economy will be another thing. But fear, modelling and projections should not be the only factors in decision making. We have had 71 deaths Nationwide to date I think and that is sad. But I am even sadder at the 200 plus babies who die each day in Australia as the result of abortion – the majority because they are simply unwanted. It’s all about perspective! All lives are precious not just some! Bless you Bill

  • This is all true, but will it be heeded?
    I read an oral history of the Great Depression in Australia a few years back. Fearful reading. Just dreadful the loss of life and dignity.

  • The flu season will soon kick in for Australians. Will the lockdown continue, by order, to protect us from the flu? After all, the flu killed 430 Australians of all ages last winter.

    Here is another prolife thought: All state and federal governments have allowed legislation proclaiming the right of people to commit what is intrinsically morally evil; deeply harmful to the individual, the family unit and society: contraception, abortion, surrogacy, IVF, soon euthanasia and same sex mirage.

    When a new bug appears, all governments have with amazing speed leapt into action, shut down the economy, shut us down, separated and isolated us; collapsed the livelihood of millions, all in the name of protecting “vulnerable: elderly people whom the virus kills (in tiny numbers).

    What have governments done to promote families to take care of their elders? To visit them regularly in care homes? To make sure care homes are places of true care for those who live there?

    This seems like some kind of psychological and philosophical sleight of hand, to me.

    They’ll let us kill our babies, neglect our old people, allow children to be conceived without one or both of their biological parents, pretend raise a sinful alliance to the level of the sacred union of marriage; AND they’ll come down on us like a ton of bricks if we poke our noses outdoors.

    Can you connect the dots?+

  • Yes, the economic shutdown is truly more deadly than the virus. The UN is now warning that the economic hardship caused by covid-19 could result in “hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths” and an estimated 42 million to 66 million children in extreme poverty this year. The International Monetary Fund has predicted the steepest worldwide downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-children-un/u-n-warns-economic-downturn-could-kill-hundreds-of-thousands-of-children-in-2020-idUSKBN21Y2X7

  • Thanks Ian. Yes, I quoted that UN warning in my article from yesterday: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/20/corona-crisis-and-experts/

  • Hi Bill,

    My husband believes that The Australian Federal and State governments have used reversed psychology, as most Australians have done more to prevent the spread of COVID-19 than the restrictions had required. There is evidence that Australians have done better at COVID-19 elimination under level 3 restrictions (suppression) compared to New Zealanders whom have been under level 4 restrictions (elimination).

    I agree with you that there must be a balance between health, economic, social, legal and political considerations, and every household isn’t the same. Unfortunately, our household is vulnerable for COVID-19 as we have members with auto-immune disease and asthma and this means we are at a higher risk of death if we get infected by COVID-19. Our family has had to make the necessary changes to our work behaviours and practices, as well as our social interactions in order that we can continue to make a positive contribution to the Australian economy. In the near future, the Australian Federal and State governments may have less restrictions for managing COVID-19, but our household will have to assess our own restrictions because of our vulnerabilities with COVID-19. I don’t believe that any Australian government needs to enforce our household restrictions onto the rest of our society because other households don’t have any members with co-morbidities so their risk factor of death from COVID-19 will be less than our household.

    Today, The ABC news on-line reported that the Victorian Health Minister has the power to renegotiate the nurse patient ratio which is protected by law if Victorian hospitals become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. This legal protection for Victorian nurses has ensured that they can manage their workload safely under the nursing laws and regulations, but if this protection is removed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then there will be nurses whom will leave the profession because it isn’t safe for them to practice nursing and this will make the workload much harder for those nurses whom decide to remain at work in the hospitals. Therefore, the Victorian Health Minister will need to tread very carefully if she decides to take away the legal protection of the nurse patient ratio, as this bad political decision could make the COVID-19 pandemic a lot worse for nurses and the nursing profession. All Victorian ministers have praised nurses for their front-line responsibility in the COVID-19 pandemic, but this will be all talk if they don’t support them with access to personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as the current nurse patient ratio.

    However, I believe one of the reason some people feel free to attack you about your articles on COVID-19 is their personal idea about human rights and responsibilities are more important than the laws and regulations which are used to control harmful behaviours and practices. This means if they personally believe same-sex marriage is a human right and responsibility then they demand that the Australian Marriage law and regulation should be changed to support this new idea, and they’re happy to ignore the real reason for the law of compulsory registration of marriages as this matters less to them, and they feel free to attack anyone and business/ company/institution that doesn’t support their idea of marriage. The 2017 amended Australian Marriage Act now legally prohibits all civil celebrants from declaring a marriage is between a man and woman, and this idea is in direct conflict with the real understanding of a biblical marriage which is now an exemption in the 2017 amended Marriage Act. This means that this new Marriage Law in Australia now supports a marriage right and responsibilities between 2 people, so it can no longer support the real purpose of compulsory registration of marriages which had been designed to effectively deal with the matrimonial disputes which arise between a man (husband) and woman (wife). The document published by the Government of India – Law Commission of India Report No 270 “Compulsory Registration of Marriages July 2017” has highlighted the many problems with non-registered marriages within India, including the “plight of Indian women whose husbands, in a number of cases refused to acknowledge their marriage before contracting a second marriage or leaving their former wives altogether and refusing them maintenance.” Therefore, I think your articles on COVID-19 explores a very complex problem like “Marriage Equality.” However, Australian governments and authorities have a responsibility of creating laws and regulations to protect the public and society from harm caused by harmful behaviours and practices, but these things need to be balanced with human rights and responsibilities in order for Australians to live in a free civilised society. Your articles requires people to really critically think about the economic COVID-19 disease can end up being worse than the physical COVID-19 disease & illness, but some people aren’t critical thinkers so they have attacked you because they believe this is their right and responsibility to deal with COVID-19 problem. It is obvious that these people care less about the current and future laws and regulations that are established by Australian governments with the help of health authorities to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, as I believe they’re ignorant about these things which are suppose to enforce or guide peoples’ behaviour and institutions’ practice in order to protect the public and society from real harm.

  • I wrote an article published March 24, explaining why the shutdown was a horrible mistake and could destroy our country.
    I also asked the question no one is asking; “are we going to shut down with the emergence of every new virus?”

  • Wow, that’s a very astute observation by Scott Klusendorf about the moving of the goalposts. Thought-provoking, indeed.

  • Yes David, the same thing the Australian government has been doing sadly. And still no clear sunset clause.

  • Bill you are saying no more nor less than Andrew Bolt. Bolt often reminds his audience he is not a Christian but he is almost 100 % on board with our values. I am increasingly convinced that Martin Armstrong is correct: that Covid 19 is being used as a “lethal weapon for mass financial destruction” . And a lot more. Conspiracy theorist? Maybe.

  • Thanks John. Or one might say, Bolt is saying no more nor less than I am!

  • I’ve been nursing my mum through pancreatic cancer, she passed away last week and her funeral is tomorrow. Only 10 people can attend and we can’t have a wake. My brother and his wife are stuck in NZ and couldn’t be with my mum when she spent her last month here on earth. they also cannot attend the funeral. My aunt, her sister, died 3 days later in The Hague completely alone in a closed room. She had dementia and had stopped eating as she was confused and depressed about the 7 – 8 weeks of no visitors. Her family did not comfort her or sit with her due to restrictions, it’s utterly heartbreaking.

  • Thanks Jo. So sorry to hear that. And it really stinks how our governments are making things worse here.

  • Thanks Bill. It does, we have lost so many rights and very few people realise it.

  • “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER” Oh! Really?
    Cedar Meats? Labor Government collusion?
    The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming!

    All the while contemptuously disregarding the suffering masses, whose lives seem to be dismissed as no more than collateral statistical damage.

    How far can we be expected to go in accommodating statisticians having a heyday, when even their models, (be it for supposed global warming or for Corona Virus ) offer the first and foremost denunciation of their tragically incomplete and thus defective hypotheses?
    If theorists and hypothecators are given such sway in being allowed to hijack our ‘social contract’, should they not correspondingly be held to some account?

    Accordingly, does it seem all that far fetched if we, who have to pick up the tab for shonky, (emotive rather than exacting) econometric modelling*, find cause to have our entire bevy of bureaucrats (State and Federal, from ‘pollies’ down, to local Council employees) sincerely empathise with our onerous predicament?

    To underline a genuine unity in declaring WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER it might be appropriate to automatically apply a 5% salary reduction for all public service employees, for the duration of this and any other declared State of Emergency?

    Only then might we resume, publicly re-engaging typically Judeo-Christian values that plausibly undergird a crucial spirit of unity, enabling ALL to sing: “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”
    Perhaps only then can we genuinely hope to see our privileged nation restored?

    Phil Brabin, B.Bus (Tpt Econ)
    * Distinction in Financial Math.

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