What Would a Humanist Do? Should I Take a Sick and Uninsured Neighbor to the Hospital?

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Today we bring you our latest installment of “What Would a Humanist Do?”—offering multiple AHA staff opinions on reader questions. Because while humanists are committed to being good without a god, sometimes they need a little advice on how to pull it off.

Q: My close neighbor has become sick (possibly with COVID-19 or the flu). She doesn’t have a car or any close family, and she has asked me to take her to the hospital. She doesn’t have insurance, so she doesn’t want to call an ambulance because of the potential cost, especially if it’s a false call. I don’t want to come into contact with the virus, but I am a humanist and feel the moral thing to do is help her. Any advice?


You’re in a tough spot. On the one hand, you have to consider your health and wellbeing, especially because the coronavirus has so many unknowns. On the other hand, you’re right that the ethical thing to do is to help your neighbor in this situation, especially since she doesn’t have a car or a safety net of people around her (other than you).

Make sure to take the proper precautions before getting her to the hospital. Both of you should wear facemasks and bring hand sanitizer if you have any. After you return from the hospital, wipe down the car interior with disinfectant wipes or spray.

In a public health crisis we can’t lose our compassion—especially for the people who need the most help.

—Sam Gerard

While there’s a moral duty incumbent on all of us (and especially those of us who identify as humanists) to be charitable, it’s important you exercise extreme care and caution in assessing this situation and how much you can offer. If I were you, I’d ask myself these very practical questions per the public health and safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Do I have the resources and capacity to be of assistance?
  • Am I at great risk of contracting the virus?
  • Do I have dependents or loved ones who are at greater health risk if exposed to the virus?
  • Can I safely transport her to the hospital without compromising my own health?

Depending on the answers you arrive at, I’d either take her to the hospital or politely explain why you can’t.

—Innanoshe Akuson

This outbreak is obviously an unprecedented event in our lifetime and every reaction (and overreaction!) is both valid and understandable.

That said, those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy right now can best contribute to mitigation efforts by being calm, rational, and safe. Do not go to a hospital without having first consulted experts over the phone. As anxious and scared as your neighbor is, if she is able to communicate with you, she might be able to communicate with a qualified medical professional who can tell her how to proceed. If she is uncomfortable with contacting a doctor or is unable to do so, your local health department will have more information for you.

My county’s health department has set up a hotline, 2-1-1, specifically for these types of situations to distribute medically sound information and advice. Take a look at your local city, county, or state health department’s resources to see if a similar resource is available to you. It is essential that hospitals are not needlessly crowded but also that those who need help are able to receive it.

—Peter Bjork