Skip to main content
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Ethics Behind Naming a Virus After Its Country of Origin

Protesters in support of the Stop Asian Hate movement

Protesters in support of the Stop Asian Hate movement

Kaitlyn Leung '21

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Kaitlyn Leung ’21 is studying biology and child studies and a 2020-21 health care ethics intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

According to an analysis released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes toward Asian Americans increased 150% in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic years. The rhetoric around calling the COVID-19 virus names like “China Virus,” “Chinese Virus,” and “Kung Flu” has made groups of Asians, regardless of their country of origin, vulnerable to stigma, Sinophobia, and xenophobia. As a result, Americans of Asian descent are being attacked based on the color of their skin and the physical features they are born with; attributes they should be proud of as they define their identity. Sadly, this has led to a wave of fear and has caused people to intentionally hide who they are. This is affecting people of all ages, the old and the young.

Racism born out of the spread of COVID-19 has led to attacks on our most vulnerable populations: the elderly. Many older Asian Americans immigrated to the United States as young adolescents in search of a better life for themselves and their families. I know this is a fact since it is the story of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and that of other families and friends. Although the majority of Asian Americans receive care through the U.S. healthcare system, the recent reports of attacks are deterring some seeking medical treatment and vaccination. The elder population is eligible to get the vaccine not only to protect themselves, but others as well, yet they fear the backlash from others who blame them for the virus. They fear going outside, leaving their own homes and neighborhoods as they have seen previous victims physically abused—pushed, slapped, and punched. Some have been able to stand up to their attackers, like Xiao Zhen Xie, a 75-year old woman from San Francisco. But, many have not. Even then, Xie was left traumatized and scared after the encounter.

It is unimaginable that some people think it is permissible to attack others, especially those who are not as capable of protecting themselves. I was raised in a household and culture that valued respecting others, especially my elders, and these news reports have shook my core. This goes against ethical principlesthe principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence are shattered as people are deliberately physically, mentally, and emotionally battered. In addition, there is no justice as innocent people are scapegoated for the cause and initial spread of COVID-19. These individuals are not being treated with dignity nor respect. Clearly, these acts are morally wrong and steps must be taken to cease them.

Not only is there a major impact on our older generations, but this is equally traumatizing for our younger generations. Many are putting their lives on the line to help protect their elders. For example, Asian with Attitudes (AWA) is a movement that is uniting to fight back against the surge of racism and hate crimes. Sam Bun, a member of AWA, says that, “Most of our people are afraid to say or do anything, which I feel is why I had to step in … I wanted to let them know they’re not alone and give the people some hope.” (CBSLA staff, 1). Some of the younger generation are losing their family members and friends as well. Examples include the recent Atlanta shooting, hate crimes, and killings of Asian Americans. The younger generation themselves are also facing the same racism, which includes people saying “F*ck China” or “Go back to Communist China, B*tch.”

When anyone, especially children, are put in stressful situations, it can lead to a cycle of toxic stress. This can follow them through life, impacting their future education, social life, occupation, and more. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), like losing a parent, abuse, or neglect can take an exponential toll on children, physically, mentally, and pyscologically. COVID-19 has led to many challenges—mentally and economically—putting extreme stress on parents and caregivers to provide for their families. Adding racist language and violence towards certain groups only intensifies stress and fear. According to, a little under 45% of children experience at least one ACE and one in 10 have experienced three or more ACES (Sacks & Murphey, 2018). With all that is happening in the world today, these negative experiences are increasing.

The recent rhetoric, actions, and crimes against Asian Americans are not benefitting anyone. Asian Americans of all ages now have to be more wary of their surroundings; with many feeling they have targets on their backs. There is an immense amount of fear for family and friends. This is no way to live. The current attitude toward Asian Americans is disheartening, but there is hope. What can be learned can be unlearned. Now, more than ever, it is important to change the rhetoric. People are not to blame for the virus, a pathogen is to blame. We need to support everyone and appreciate all for who they are, what they look like, and where they come from. Instead of targeting individuals and groups to accuse, we must stand in solidarity to fight the virus. Regardless of what is believed about the coronavirus, hateful actions are never the answer.

Follow these organizations for news and awareness:






Apr 16, 2021

Subscribe to Ethics Center Blogs

* indicates required
Subscribe me to the following blogs:


Make a Gift to the Ethics Center

Content provided by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is made possible, in part, by generous financial support from our community. With your help, we can continue to develop materials that help people see, understand, and work through ethical problems.