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Story | Research
18 March 2020

QF’s WISH tackles ethical issues of the coronavirus pandemic in webinar

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QF’s WISH tackles ethical issues of the coronavirus pandemic in webinar

Experts from medicine, Islamic ethics, and government exchanged their views in a virtual panel discussion organized by WISH

Key ethical questions surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic – ranging from people’s privacy and whether societies should prioritize their most vulnerable people to restrictions on religious gatherings – have been tackled during an interactive webinar at Qatar Foundation.

Organized by the global Qatar Foundation (QF) initiative the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in collaboration with Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), the webinar – titled Coronavirus: the interplay of medical and Islamic ethics – featured a panel discussion where experts from government and the fields of medicine and Islamic exchanged medical, ethical and bioethical perspectives on COVID-19.

WISH - Coronavirus Webinar - 01

The webinar explored the global coronavirus through the lens of both medicine and ethics.

The webinar, filmed in the studios of QF partner university Northwestern University in Qatar, reflected QF’s commitment to continuing to foster dialogue and spark conversations while also safeguarding public health amid the COVID-19 situation, through using virtual platforms.

Among the speakers was Dr. Mutaz Al-Khatib, Assistant Professor of Methodology and Ethics, CILE, who said most news stories about the pandemic focus primarily on medical aspects, but rarely discussions equally-important ethical questions. “The ethical aspect is essential, because it helps to set our priorities on how we respond to the pandemic, and how we can convince people how to act, and balance our values,” he said.

The main ethical dilemma in bioethics is how to strike a good balance between individual good and public good, and it becomes hard to balance both in the case of pandemic.

Dr. Mohammed Ghaly

During the discussion, Dr. Mohammed Ghaly, Professor of Islam and Biomedical Ethics, CILE, raised a question about people’s privacy during pandemics, especially while collecting information during isolation, quarantine, and enforcing restrictions on movement, banning travels, and closing international borders. “The main ethical dilemma in bioethics is how to strike a good balance between individual good and public good, and it becomes hard to balance both in the case of pandemic,” he said.

“In most cases, we have to compromise and undermine individual rights.”

Dr. Mohammed Al Thani, Director of Public Health, Ministry of Public Health, said: “Our purpose is not to invade privacy. The [coronavirus] rate is rapidly escalating; we need to act urgently and as necessary, and it is our moral obligation to do so to save humanity.

Prayer is not restricted to mosques, and every person can perform their obligation while also preserving and protecting the public interest

Dr. Mutaz Al-Khatib

“As leaders of the nation, we need to respect that life is very valuable and give every person the chance to live safely and properly. It is our responsibility to take care of the rights and health of our people.”

Another question raised during the discussion is whether countries with scarce resources should prioritize their most vulnerable citizens over those regarded as being at lesser risk from the pandemic.

WISH - Coronavirus Webinar - 02

Through using virtual platforms, QF is continuing to foster dialogue in a time of social distancing and health precautions.

“One way to answer this question is through what we call health metrics, where we see how many quality life years will be saved among the population for each intervention that government adopts,” said Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research at QF partner university Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.

Prayer is not restricted to mosques, and every person can perform their obligation while also preserving and protecting the public interest

Dr. Mutaz Al-Khatib

“We try to avoid the moral question by going to numbers, and taking decisions based on simple arithmetic.”

Addressing the issue of restrictions on congregational religious gatherings such as Friday prayers, which have been already implemented in some Muslim countries and have involved the temporary closure of mosques, Dr. Al-Khatib commented: “From the Islamic jurisprudence perspective, this is legitimate and legal, and it is the right action to be taken.

“There are justifications for this decision to reduce the contact between people, and ultimately limit the infection. Some people understand it wrongly. We are not cancelling the obligation itself. Prayer is not restricted to mosques, and every person can perform their obligation while also preserving and protecting the public interest”.

Dr. Ghaly added: “if we look at this from the perspective of bioethical discourse, there are different nuances at the individual level outside the state level.

WISH - Coronavirus Webinar - 03

Speakers discussed topics including privacy, whether societies should prioritize vulnerable people over others, and restrictions on religious gatherings amid COVID-19.

“It is our moral responsibility as individuals, because the harm that may result from infection makes it our obligation to protect others.”

Speaking about the decision to host a webinar on this issue, Dr. Sultana Afdal, CEO of WISH, said: “Originally we planned to hold this event in an auditorium, in front of an audience, but the evolving nature of the current global COVID-19 pandemic has lead us to adapt our plans in a way that is mindful of the need to avoid public gatherings.”

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