HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Thinking, Talking and Acting about Public Health Ethics in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jonathan Montgomery (University College London), Kenneth Kaufman (Rutgers University), Richard Williams (University of South Wales), Thinking, Talking and Acting about Public Health Ethics in the COVID-19 Pandemic, SSRN (2022):

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the discipline of public ethics has struggled to find a consensus on how best to conceptualise the challenges. The transactional nature of clinical ethics is too limited to capture the range of ethically relevant concerns. Although public health ethics is broader, it fails to provide a convincing framework for the deeply political implications of the response to the pandemic. They go beyond health issues and raise questions of justice.

We consider the demands of fairness for all, corrective justice for past structural wrongs, and utopian approaches that draw on our ideas about the ideal society. The lack of an agreed framework for ethical analysis is exacerbated by dwindling faith in expertise and a degradation of trust in media sources to present reliable, accurate information. These matters have undermined the quality of public reason. Although both the USA and UK had well-established anticipatory governance for pandemic influenza, it was not followed when COVID-19 took hold.

The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our collective thinking, our readiness to discuss the issues rationally and effectively, and our ability to act effectively in the public good. Rebuilding effective public ethics in its wake will present a monumental challenge.

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