Is It Right to Call the Frontline Staff Heroes?

Fiona McCarthy

6th Class
Moanfune, Co. Waterford

In my opinion, one of the most important ethical questions during this present pandemic is how we are treating our frontline staff. Leaders around the world have given many speeches, and while they were all different, one thing they have in common is that they use the word hero to describe doctors and nurses. Hero. But what does that mean? Furthermore, is it dehumanising to call the frontline staff heroes? And are they just doing their jobs? Also, if the Hippocratic Oath is Kantian, is it right for countries to be taking a Utilitarian approach? There is no definite answer to any of these questions, but there are many strong opinions on them. 

What Is A Hero? 

The definition of the word ‘hero’ is “a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”, according to the dictionary. While that is the official definition, and some people would agree with that, others wouldn’t. Some would argue that a hero is someone that makes great sacrifices for the greater good. Others say that it’s someone that came from poverty but worked hard and became wealthy, hence living the American dream. Aristotle believed that a hero is somebody that is virtuous, and personally I would agree with him to an extent. I believe that a hero is somebody that does the right thing that the situation calls for, even if it’s hard to do. But if everyone has a different version of what the word hero means, how come everybody is calling doctors and nurses heroes? 

Is It Dehumanising? 

By calling doctors and nurses heroes, is it dehumanising? By calling them heroes, it could be used as an excuse to not fully acknowledge what they are doing. It could put hospital workers on a pedestal, where they are not allowed to have flaws. On the other hand, doctors and nurses are making sacrifices for the benefit of others. When they’re going into work, they are risking getting CoVid-19, which is highly contagious and could easily spread to their families. In my opinion, healthcare staff should be acknowledged for what they’re doing during this present pandemic but shouldn’t be put on a pedestal and should be properly equipped with adequate PPE. 

Are They Just Doing Their Job? 

Are frontline staff heroes, or are they just doing their jobs? When doing their jobs in normal times, they would encounter death and highly contagious illnesses every day. So why are people suddenly calling them heroes now? Last year, when nurses were protesting for higher pay, some were saying that it was a disgrace, so what changed now? Maybe people are just copying what world leaders are saying, or maybe they’re just realising the important work that hospital staff do now that there is a global pandemic going on. But are doctors and nurses really heroes if they’re just doing their job? On the other hand, the job of being a doctor or nurse could always be called heroic and noble. I think that the frontline staff are just doing their jobs, but are still heroes, as the job they are in was always heroic. Maybe people just didn’t realise how many sacrifices were made to work in a hospital before now. 

What About The Hippocratic Oath? 

Many countries around the world have taken a utilitarian approach to this pandemic, but is it right when the Hippocratic Oath is Kantian? All doctors must take the Hippocratic Oath, but while the country leaders are taking a utilitarian approach, the doctors and nurses are the ones carrying it out. All nurses have to take a similar oath called the Nightingale Pledge, which is also Kantian. In deontological ethics, Kant said that you should never break a promise, but with the approach that leaders are taking, doctors and nurses are forced to break that promise. Is that ethically right? However, we are in unprecedented times, and are the leaders just doing what’s necessary? It’s an awfully hard decision to make, but isn’t it this that shows us how people really are? Personally, I think that each country’s leader is doing what they think is right, some are doing better than others, and these morally challenging times are showing which governments are more ethically capable. 

These recent times have been extremely hard on everyone. Leaders have to make tough decisions, as do doctors and nurses, even ordinary people have to make hard ethical decisions. In struggling times like this it is important to try and make the right decisions. The sacrifices that frontline staff make and the heroic work that they do should be fully recognised by everyone, and that’s why I do think that we should call them heroes, just not to the point where it’s dehumanising.