Coronavirus, Crowdfunding and Consciousness

Angelina Wu, Guest Writer

The diagnosis of the day has returned. Your uncle, infected with COVID-19 just two months ago, is still alive but in dire straits: his lungs are beginning to fail, and he has fallen into a coma. Even worse, though your mom tried to hide the forms from you, you’ve overheard your parents worrying about the treatment costs topping 20,000$ (Rae). 

You do have one idea to try and help. Just a few days ago, you saw a family on the news overcome with tears and thanking humanity for fulfilling their $25,000 GoFundMe in just two weeks—could you get the same results? Even though you’ve been too ashamed and terrified to tell even some of your closest friends about your family’s conditions, should you reveal your unconscious uncle’s private life to the internet in order to solicit charity from strangers? 

Over 300,000 people just like you have made such a choice and begun COVID-19 fundraisers which can be searched for on GoFundMe, a popular crowdfunding website. But despite the portrayal of crowdfunding in popular media, it is no instantaneous success story. According to Nora Kenworthy, assistant professor of nursing and health studies at the University of Washington in Bothell, “only about 10 percent of medical campaigns meet their financial needs.” To compete at all in a veritable sea of COVID-19 fundraisers, new starters are essentially required to spin sensational narratives, which usually means revealing large amounts of personal information (Kubheka).

However, this level of information sharing raises concerns with privacy, an increasingly bigger issue in the age of the internet and a fundamental human right. Unauthorized privacy intrusions compromise one’s right to self-determination and can have countless ramifications. Regarding COVID-19, revealing even just a patient’s name can lead to intense harassment and stigmatization against family and friends (Stockman, Tahir and Ravindranath). 

From a deontological standpoint, then, which weighs the morality of an action only on whether the action itself is right or wrong, it is unethical to disclose your unconscious uncle’s personal information even for a crowdfund. He cannot consent to the privacy invasion; regardless of what you intend the consequences to be, you would be violating his autonomy.

However, from a utilitarian perspective, starting such a crowdfund despite the privacy invasion is ethical to the extent that it is done for the greater good—in this case so the uncle can continue to receive medical care and the family can still have money to put food on the table. It is just essential to consider any potential ramifications during and after the fundraiser. 

Medical bills are expensive, crowdfunding is volatile, and privacy is essential, but lives are precious. In the end, I believe it is ethical to begin a crowdfund for the unconscious patient even if you must invade their privacy to a certain extent. Crowdfunding, especially crowdfunding for unconscious COVID-19 patients, has numerous pitfalls and complications that are not immediately obvious, but it might just save your uncle’s life.