Dignity, Medical Treatment and COVID-19
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
The premise upon which the Church builds her moral and social teaching is the inestimable dignity of every human person — a dignity which begins the moment we first exist and remains always ours — one that comes from being made in the image and likeness of God. 
Morally, this guides the way we are called to treat ourselves and others. Socially, this is supposed to guide the way that society itself is structured and operates. And while there are many modern challenges Christians must confront in order to uphold such a radical view of the worth of human persons, there are also scenarios where it may become impossible to offer everyone what their dignity would otherwise entitle them to. 
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic presents us with some examples where this is either already happening or could potentially happen. One such example that many Catholics have already had to sadly deal with concerns is funerals, or the lack thereof. 
While the loss of a loved one can be painful enough on its own, the fact that normal funerals cannot currently be held, and friends and family may not be able to gather to pay their respects, can add greater difficulty. 
When we stop and think about it, funerals exist because of the value that human beings have. They’re an opportunity to offer prayers for the deceased person’s salvation and support those who mourn their loss. Funerals are but one indication of the fact that the deceased person was endowed with that value, that dignity, which comes from God Himself. 
Those of us who attend the funeral or otherwise offer support are witnessing to this dignity. But given the reality of the pandemic, this sacred way of honoring a person must unfortunately be restricted or denied for the time being. 
Certainly, this doesn’t prevent us from offering our prayers and support from afar, but it nevertheless eliminates something the deceased would otherwise be entitled to. And we can probably think of other such examples like this that are already happening. 
There are however, other challenges which are looming on the horizon depending on how catastrophic the pandemic ends up being. And these are possibilities which have already become realities in some places. 
Take, for example, the limited resources that health care workers have at their disposal to treat those affected by COVID-19 and other serious health problems. We’ve all heard of the shortage of personal protective equipment and life-saving devices like ventilators. 
What this means is that even though there may be equipment and technology that can successfully help a person suffering a serious condition, there may not be enough of it when it is needed. And herein lies the dilemma about being able to treat every person according to their underlying dignity. If there is only one ventilator available and three people who need it, then who gets it? Clearly, each of them have the same basic human dignity. 
Under normal circumstances, regardless of other considerations, it could easily be construed as an act of unjust discrimination to deny a person medical treatment which is likely to benefit them — at least if such treatment is available. But with COVID-19 we are not in normal circumstances. Therefore, decisions along these lines will have to be made. 
This is where serious moral considerations have to be carefully weighed. Will the deciding factors of who gets treated and who doesn’t end up being forms of discrimination such as race, age, economic status or popularity? Or will other, perhaps more equitable criteria be the deciding factors such as likelihood of success? 
These are grim and disturbing questions to ask and to face, and yet we find ourselves likely to face them. Our teaching about the dignity of every human person is clear, even if the answers to living that out in practice will in times like these prove to be less so.