Rights, Responsibilities, and Obligations

There is much talk about the rights of people to go about their daily lives free from government directives and restrictions. No one who understands the Constitution disagrees with such a position. But discussing rights without including the responsibilities and obligations such rights include obscures the point.

The final evaluation of the success or necessity of the social distancing, business closings, and other measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 will be a long time coming. Our knowledge of the virulence, infection rates, mortality rates, and recovery rates will take time to correlate as we gather data.

Responding to pandemics require judgment calls. These decisions impact lives. Failing to implement a reasonable plan to minimize the impact on people and medical resources can lead to disasters.

Overreaction can have the effect of the “boy who cried wolf” as people discount what they perceive as a draconian and unnecessary intrusion on their lives. When a genuine crisis arises—such as the one we face now— past poor experiences would cause people to ignore it.

We need to base the decision to relax restrictions on several factors.

  1. Our best and considered analysis of the risk of a renewed spike in exposures and infections.
  2. Our experience in treatment options learned throughout the pandemic so far and the demand capacity available in our medical facilities, including equipment stockpiles.
  3. A scientifically valid projection of the availability of improved drugs to treat and a vaccine to prevent the virus.
  4. The long-term economic impact on the country, businesses, and those forced onto the unemployment rolls.
  5. The rights of individuals to live their lives without restrictions.

These are not simple matters. They require a well thought out strategy that takes each factor into consideration in crafting a path back to normalcy.

Yet the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the famous words from the Declaration of Independence—also come with obligations and responsibilities.

You have a right to live your life, and no one can deny it. But this right does not come without an obligation to allow others the same right.

You have the right to liberty but cannot deny others the same.

You may pursue whatever makes you happy, but not if it denies others the same joy.

No one can predict what the effect of relaxing restrictions will bring. It is one of the most critical judgment calls we will ever make. But we should remember almost eighty thousand Americans have died during this pandemic. Arguing over how we tally those deaths and whether it was underlying conditions or the virus itself that were the cause is an exercise in futility.

People died after contracting the virus. We need respond now, with the best information available, and re-evaluate once all the data is in. Then use that information to plan for the inevitable next one. Assuming facts not in evidence is dangerous.

The reality is, it won’t matter to those who may yet die what was the primary cause until we control this virus. Something has changed in the world and we need be very smart about how we deal with it.

Reasonable expectation of fulfilling your obligations to others does not infringe on your rights, it is a guarantee that others meet the same obligations.

The fact is we do not have a clear picture of the course, level of contagion, or proven method of controlling, treating, or preventing this virus. Until we do, focusing on your obligations to ensuring the rights of others is as important as insisting on exercising your own.

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